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Miłosz MAGIN (1929-1999)
Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra (1964) [21:39]
Concerto for Cello, String orchestra and Timpani (1977) [28:46]
Justine Verdier (piano), Jaroslaw Domżal (cello)

The Orchestra of the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, Bialystok Branch/Jan Milosz Zarzycki
rec. Filharmonia Bialostocka, May 2003, February 2004
ACTE PRÉALABLE APO 113 [50:25]

The Polish tradition is especially rich in pianist-composers: musicians, that is, who were internationally famous as pianists and also wrote music which has endured - to one degree or another. Chopin, Theodor Kullak, Franz Xaver Scharwenka, Moritz Moskowski, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Leopold Godowsky, Józef Hofmann, Ignaz Friedman, Alexandre Tansman, etc. The list is a long and distinguished one. Amongst twentieth-century exemplars of the line one might count Miłosz Magin, without claiming for him quite the stature of some of his predecessors.

Magin was born in Łodż and after studies in Warsaw won prizes at a number of prestigious piano competitions, including the Chopin competition in Warsaw, the Vianna da Motta in Lisbon and the Marguerite Long-Thibaud in Paris. He toured extensively and made an important recording of all of Chopin’s piano music for Decca. A serious road accident in 1963, in which his left wrist was broken, interrupted his career as a performer but gave him the opportunity to return to work as a composer. As a teacher, and as founder in 1985 of the Miłosz Magin international Piano Competition, he has been an important influence on a number of younger pianists. He died of a heart attack – while on a concert tour – and was buried close to Chopin in the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

As a composer Magin wrote works in many genres and for a variety of musical forces – including pieces for solo piano, chamber music, four concertos for piano, two violin concertos, a clarinet concerto and a cello concerto, as well as two symphonies. More details on Magin can be found at a website devoted to him: http://membres.lycos.fr/miloszmagin/.

Magin himself premiered his Piano Concerto No. 2 in 1967 in Germany, with the Duisburg Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Reinchard Zilcher. I suspect that many listeners hearing the concerto without being told anything of the composer would imagine it to be the work of a French composer – a French composer of an earlier generation. There are affinities with Ravel and with Poulenc in this tuneful, thoroughly tonal composition, which is firmly within the neo-classical tradition. The first movement is both graceful and lyrical, its materials developed in text-book fashion. The flowing melody which dominates the central andante is charming. The final movement is rather more specifically Polish, in its use of the oberek, a Polish dance in triple meter.

The Cello Concerto is also in three movements and is rather more thoroughly Polish in manner and material; perhaps not coincidentally it is the more fully convincing of the two works on the disc. The opening allegro is in sonata form, the first theme rhythmically lively, the second more lyrical. There are extended unaccompanied passages for the soloist, which Domżal presents persuasively. The very pleasant second movement is based on the traditional polish dance, the kujawiak. This was a dance from central Poland, a simple circling dance, slow and ceremonious. The scholar Ada Dziewanowska (Polish Folk Dances and Songs, 1999) describes it as "reminiscent of the tall grain stalks in the fields swaying gently in the wind" – and such an image might reasonably come into one’s mind listening to this andante cantabile. Orchestral storms intermittently threaten the kujawiak, but its quiet dignity finally triumphs. The closing movement is a rustic sounding oberek, at some moments almost melancholy, at others very vigorous. This is a very interesting concerto, of which I would like to hear more performances.

I happened to hear Justine Verdier while on a visit to her native France a year or two ago and was very favourably impressed. She is a young pianist of immense potential – she was only seventeen at the time of this recording and acquits herself admirably. She studied with Magin and her sympathy with his music is evident here. Jaroslaw Domżal is a somewhat more experienced soloist (though he was only in his twenties at the time of recording). He plays with passion and a secure, full tone, entirely in sympathy with the ‘Polishness’ of this concerto. The orchestral playing is perfectly adequate, while falling slightly short of the highest international standards.

This is not music of great originality, but it is well-written in a rather old-fashioned manner. What matters, of course, is that Magin is being true to himself in writing in the way he does, and the honesty of the music shines through. The youthfulness and relative inexperience of the performers lends an entirely fitting innocence to the music, itself free of doubts or excessive self-awareness – such freedom being both its strength and its limitation.

Glyn Pursglove

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

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