• New CD Note (Różycki/Hyperion)

034571280660In the last few of years of writing CD notes, I have unexpectedly been travelling back in time to Polish repertoire, little of which I knew.  It began back in 1998, with a note on Paderewski’s Symphony ‘Polonia’, followed by a CD of his major piano works.  But the trend has accelerated recently with notes on Zarębski (Piano Quintet – which I did know!), Żeleński (Piano Quartet, Piano Concerto), Zarzycki (Grande Polonaise, Piano Concerto), Dobrzyński (Overture to Monbar, Piano Concerto, Symphony no.2) and Scharwenka (Piano Concertos 1-4).  The world of the curious listener is forever indebted to the two UK companies – Hyperion and Chandos – that have made this and other neglected repertoire available.

Now I can add another name to the roster: Ludomir Różycki (concertante works for piano and orchestra), and there’s another CD in the pipeline of piano quintets by Różycki and Ignacy Friedman.  Różycki was part of the short-lived composer collective a few years into the 20th century – Młoda Polska w Muzyce (Young Poland in Music) – that also included Szymanowski.  But Różycki’s music rarely penetrated outside Poland and even within Poland he is known primarily for one score, the ballet Pan Twardowski (Mr Twardowski).  I saw this many moons ago, and it is a totally delightful and brilliantly characterised piece of Tchaikovskian whimsy, with the necessary dark undertow.  This new CD of Różycki’s music has many surprises as well as confirming him as a dyed-in-the-wool conservative with a clear lyrical gift.  The Second Piano Concerto in particular raises as many questions as it answers, probably as a consequence of the time and place of its composition (1941, Warsaw).

Here’s the link to my booklet note for Hyperion’s The Romantic Piano Concerto 67: Różycki, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• And here’s a little extra post – When was Różycki born? – that tries to shed some light on the mistaken belief (see major dictionaries) that Różycki was born in 1884, not 1883.

• Zarębski Piano Quintet on PR ‘Trybunał’

For the second time in a month, I tuned in yesterday to Polish Radio 2 ‘Dwójka’ for one of its fortnightly ‘tribunals’. The format is simple but unusual.  Three commentators – on this occasion, two critics plus a performer – whittle down a selection of six recordings of the same piece until it votes for a winner.  All six CDs are heard in the same initial section of the piece, then four in a second section, three in a third and two in a fourth.  It’s an interesting idea and draws in the listener.  One might argue, however, if the sections are always chosen in the order that the work progresses, that a recording that improves as it unfolds may lose out too soon.  The line-up for yesterday’s panel was Dorota Kozińska (critic), Kacper Miklaszewski (critic), Jacek Hawryluk (chair) and Karol Radziwonowicz (pianist).

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Yesterday it was the turn of the Piano Quintet (1885) by Juliusz Zarębski (1854-85).  I have enthused on this work elsewhere in these pages, almost exactly a year ago (Zarębski’s Piano Quintet).  Last February, I was especially keen on a YouTube recording by Darina Vassileva and the Quarto Quartet from Bulgaria and included links in my post, but I’ve still not been able to find a copy of its CD recording on the Arcadium label.

The schedule yesterday was:

• Round 1: Opening of first movement
• Round 2: Opening of second movement
• Round 3: Opening of third movement
• Round 4: Opening of fourth movement.

After Round 1, the panel was (almost) unanimous in eliminating CDs 3 and 4, both of which – from this opening section only – sounded untidy, messy of tempo and somewhat over-egged expressively.  They were both live performances.

• It turned out that both CD3 and CD4 had Martha Argerich at the keyboard: a CD from the Lugano Festival (2011) and a DVD from a Warsaw concert (2012).  I must admit to being surprised that two of the six slots were taken up by one major player, when in fact there are now over a dozen recordings that have been issued on CD over the past 20 years or so.  A pity, therefore, that one of these was not chosen to replace one of the Argerich recordings.

• Round 2 resulted in the elimination of another recent recording (CD6), this one by Piotr Sałajczyk and the Lasoń Ensemble (Accord, 2012) [thanks to William Hughes for pointing me in the right direction for the info on the players].

By this stage, the panel had isolated CD2 as being the least Slavonic/Romantic in tone and temperament, so the discussion seemed to be coming to a head partly on that basis.

• Round 3 used a sizeable chunk from the beginning of the Scherzo.  For my money, the only recording to live up to the title of the movement was CD2.  It was light on its feet, whereas the others – especially the pianists – chose slow, deliberate tempos and made heavy weather of an admittedly difficult movement.  After some deliberation, CD1 was lost – Wojciech Świtała with the Royal String Quartet (Bearton, 2006).  It was now down to a contest between the new, ‘non-Slavonic’ CD2 and the archival, ‘Slavonic’ CD5.

• I could tell which way Round 4 was going to go from the comments so far.  What puzzled me was that to my ears the excerpts from CD5 had severe drawbacks.  Its first movement showed little shaping of cadential phrases (they simply motored on), while the second was on the slow side, with over-emphatic rhythmic articulation and a main theme (violin) that was overcooked and pretty horrid.  The finale sounded better, though the piano playing still seemed mannered in places.  CD2, on the other hand, brought freshness and new perspectives, even if it did not have the lushness and depth of tone of CD5.

• CD2 was the runner-up: Jonathan Plowright and the Szymanowski Quartet (Hyperion, 2012).*  CD5 was the only archive recording of the six, dating (if I caught it right) from c.1963.  It featured ‘The Pianist’ Władysław Szpilman as a member of the Warsaw Piano Quintet, with Bronisław Gimpel as first violin.  Well, that’s me told, but I stick to my guns about the over-ripe tone of the theme in the second movement.  This remastered LP recording has been reisued on a 3-CD set of Szpilman’s ‘Legendary Recordings’ (Sony, 2005).

This got me thinking about the recording history of the Zarębski Piano Quintet.  For a work that was not published until the 1930s and which has never had much of a presence or reputation outside Poland, its tally of over twelve CD recordings is remarkable.  Here’s my list, with the six recordings considered yesterday in bold – if you know of any omissions or errors, please let me know.  It’s in chronological order of release (as far as I can ascertain).

Władysław Szpilman, Warsaw Piano Quintet (1963; Sony 3-CD set, 2005)
• Waldemar Malicki, Varsovia String Quartet (Pavane, 1990)
• Szábolcs Esztényi, Wilanów String Quartet (Accord, 1991)
• Jerzy Witkowski and friends (Olympia, 1992)
• Waldemar Malicki, Amar Corde String Quartet (Amar Corde, 1997)
• Paweł Kowalski, Silesian String Quartet (Polskie Nagranie, 1998)
• Krzysztof Jabłonski, Warsaw Quintet (Dux, 2005)
Wojciech Świtała, Royal String Quartet (Bearton, 2006)
• Darina Vassileva, Quarto String Quartet (Arcadium, 2010)
Martha Argerich +, live (EMI 3-CD set, 2011)
Martha Argerich +, live (Chopin Institute DVD, 2012)
Piotr Sałajczyk, Lasoń Ensemble (CD Accord, 2012)
Jonathan Plowright, Szymanowski String Quartet (Hyperion, 2012)

There is also a newly-issued CD of the quintet in an arrangement for piano and string orchestra (my thanks to Tomasz Andrzejewski for this information; see comments below).
• Ewa Pobłocka, Amadeus CO of Polish Radio, cond. Agnieszka Duczmal (Polish Radio, 2013)

If the Vassileva-Quarto recording of 2010 is anything like the live video on YouTube, it could be something really special.  I still remain true to the first recording that I heard – the Malicki-Varsovia on Pavane – even if it verges on being an archival recording.  For one thing, its pacing and sense of musical drama are hard to better and, for another, it strikes a terrific balance between expressivity and momentum.  If you can get hold of a copy, do.  If you can’t, then my undoubted winner – for its revelatory and unfettered insights – is the most recent recording, by Jonathan Plowright and the Szymanowski Quartet on Hyperion.

………..

* I must declare my interest here, although I listened with innocent ears: I wrote the booklet notes for the Plowright/Szymanowski recording.

UPDATE!  On 22 February 2013, Polish Radio 2 responded to this post by posting about it themselves: Adrian Thomas po raz drugi o werdykcie Trybunału (Adrian Thomas for the second time on the verdict of the Tribunal).  They also put up this rather jolly second photo from the recording session:

bf3f27ec-f747-40f9-8ac5-1ac5371af15d.fileMy first post had been • Gardner/BBC SO top Polish Radio poll the day after the Tribunal on 19 January 2013 for Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra.  It received this response from Warsaw on 24 January: Wyroki Trybunału komentowane w Wielkiej Brytanii (Verdicts of the Tribunal commented on in Great Britain).

• New CD Note (Zarębski & Żeleński/Hyperion)

I’ve been an advocate of Juliusz Zarębski’s Piano Quintet for years and so I’m delighted that Hyperion has just released this new recording. It’s accompanied by the Piano Quartet by his slightly older compatriot, Władysław Żeleński. If you haven’t come across either composer. you’re in for a treat.  Zarębski in particular is a gem largely hidden outside his native Poland, even though in his short lifetime (he died of tuberculosis aged just 31) he was renowned across Europe as a stupendous pianist. A pupil of Liszt, he wrote mostly piano music, some of it stylistically advanced for the time. He composed the Piano Quintet in the last year of his life (1885), and I don’t think that I’m overstating it when I assert that it rivals any other example of the genre.  One of these days, it will be more widely recognised for the masterpiece that it is.

Here’s the link to my booklet note for Zarębski and Żeleński, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.  Here’s another link, this time to an earlier post about the Zarębski Quintet, plus one I wrote a few weeks ago on Zarębski, Zarzycki and Żeleński.

NEWSFLASH!  In its review, the BBC Music Magazine (Christmas issue 2012, p.93) awarded the CD ✭✭✭✭✭ for Performance and ✭✭✭✭✭ for Recording and also made it its ‘Chamber Choice’.  Thoroughly deserved – bravo to Jonathan Plowright and the Szymanowski Quartet.  It was also nice – and unexpected – to read the last sentence: ‘With the inclusion of Adrian Thomas’s expert sleeve notes, this represents another invaluable Hyperion release’!

NEWSFLASH no.2!  On Radio 3’s CD Review on 9 February 2013, Andrew McGregor gave an enthusiastic response to this CD, also drawing on what he called “Adrian Thomas’s excellent notes”.  Thanks Andrew!

NEWSFLASH no.3!  Jonathan Plowright has passed on to me a ✭✭✭✭✭ online review in Audiophile Audition, dated 13 February 2013.  It ends: ‘Adrian Thomas’s excellent liner [notes?] tell some intriguing musical stories[.]’.

NEWSFLASH no.4 and no.5!  Another great review for this CD from Steve Arloff, including several references to the notes, including ‘the excellent booklet notes’: online review on MusicWeb-International.  Previously on MusicWeb-Interntional, its Classical editor Rob Barnett also posted an enthusiastic review, including the comment: ‘Adrian Thomas provides the much-needed commentary and does so with both style and sterling content’.

• Ż-z-z

How many composers do you know whose names begin with Z?  Zappa, Zarlino, Zelenka, Zemlinsky, Zender, Zimmermann, Ziporyn, Zorn?  There are more than you think, especially in Poland.  Contemporary composers there include Artur Zagajewski, Patryk Zakrocki, Krzysztof Zarębski, Anna Zawadzka-Gołosz, Barbara Zawadzka, Lidia Zielińska, Maciej Zieliński, Agata Zubel and even a double Z: Wojciech Ziemowit Zych.  There are yet more when you go back to before 1900.  I’ve recently been spending a very enjoyable time in the company of three of them: Żeleński, Zarębski and Zarzycki.

In a couple of weeks’ time, Hyperion will be releasing a CD of nineteenth-century Polish chamber music with piano, played by Jonathan Plowright and the Szymanowski Quartet.  The CD has two substantial pieces from the Polish Z list: the Piano Quintet by Juliusz Zarębski (1854-85) and the Piano Quartet by Władysław Żeleński (1837-1921).  Look out for it.  And at the weekend I was finishing off some work on Żeleński and Aleksander Zarzycki (1834-95) for a forthcoming CD of their piano concertos, again on Hyperion, with Jonathan Plowright and the BBC Scottish SO, conducted by Łukasz Borowicz.  That’s due for release in 2013.

I’ve written on Zarębski before and have admired Żeleński’s Piano Quartet for a number years.  But the period between the death of Chopin in 1849 and the establishment of a professional orchestra – the Warsaw Philharmonic – in 1901 remains a dark age in Polish music.  That’s mainly because very few pieces survived in the repertoire into the 20th century.  Paderewski has been well served, others less so.  Today, much of the music remains unprinted, unperformed and unrecorded.  There have been isolated modern premieres in Poland since 2000, but virtually nothing substantial on CD, though the Polish label Acte Préalable is a notable exception.  It’s taken a foreign company – Hyperion – to come to the rescue (from partly later repertoire it has already recorded works by Melcer and Stojowski as part of its Romantic Piano Concerto series).

Zarębski’s Piano Quintet (1885) is a masterpiece.  At long last, non-Polish performers and companies are beginning to sit up and take note.  In addition to the forthcoming Hyperion CD, a DVD of a performance with Martha Argerich has been released this year.  That concert took place in the Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw on 17 August 2011 as part of the festival Chopin i jego Europa (Chopin and His Europe).  The recording is published by the Narodowy Instytut Fryderyka Chopina on NIFCDVD-002.  Here’s an audio of the Scherzo from that performance.

 

Żeleński’s Piano Quartet op.61 (undated) is one of his better-known pieces, alongside his ‘characteristic overture’ W Tatrach op.27 (In the Tatras, 1868-70).  Another recording, by Joanna Ławrynowicz and members of the Four Strings Quartet, was issued on Acte Préalable earlier this year.  Prior to that, there was a great Olympia CD with the Polish Piano Quartet, which coupled the Żeleński with another, even more joyous piano quartet by Zygmunt Noskowski. Żeleński’s Piano Concerto op.60 dates from later in his life (according to a recent source, from 1903).  Holding the fort before the CD releases of both the Piano Concerto (next year) and the Piano Quartet (next month), here’s the first movement of the latter, from the OLympia recording.

 

Of these three Zs, Zarzycki is by far the least known.  But the forthcoming Hyperion CD of works for piano and orchestra gives an opportunity to redress the situation, not only with his Piano Concerto but also his Grande Polonaise, both dating from 1859-60 when he was studying in Paris.  He gave the premieres himself.  Up until now, Zarzycki’s been known for his small-scale chamber pieces.  One of these, the Mazurka in G for violin and piano, has caught the attention over the years of distinguished violinists, including David Oistrakh.  I don’t know when this was filmed, but Oistrakh certainly makes the case for the piece.

 

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