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Frederic CHOPIN (1810 - 1849)
Arrangements for violin and piano

Nocturne, Op 27/2 [6:17] arr. Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908)
Waltz, Op 64/2 [3:10] arr. Bronislaw Huberman (1882-1947)
Mazurka, Op 68/4 [2:26] arr. Zino Francescatti (1902-1991)
Nocturne, Op 55/2 [6:03] arr. Joan Marten (1883-1971)
Waltz, Op 64/3 [3:18] arr. Pablo de Sarasate
Nocturne, Op 9/2 [4:09] arr. Pablo de Sarasate
Waltz, Op 34/3 [2:18] arr. Pablo de Sarasate
Lithuanian Song, Op 74/16 [3:31] arr. Leopold Auer (1845-1930)
Waltz, Op 70/1 [2:19] arr. Bronislaw Huberman
Mazurka, Op 7/3 [2:14] arr. Bronislaw Huberman
Nocturne ohne Op [4:24] arr. Nathan Milstein (1903-1992)
Waltz, Op 34/2 [5:12] arr. Pablo de Sarasate
Mazurka,Op 33/2 [1:53] arr. Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962)
Nocturne, Op 37/2 [6:31] arr. Bronislaw Huberman
Berceuse, Op 57 [5:25] arr. Charles Cerné (1897-1943)
Joanna Madroszkiewicz (violin) and Paul Gulda (piano)
recorded 17-19 July 2004 at Fürstliche Reitbahn Bad Arolsen
MDG 603 1296-2 [60:38]

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This is a most interesting disc, bringing together a number of arrangements for violin and piano of truly exquisite music by Chopin, by some of the greatest 19th and early 20th century concert virtuosi. I have not listed the full titles (i.e. with keys) of the originals, because most of these arrangements have been transposed into keys which better suit the ‘lie’ of the violin. Most of these arrangements are no masterpieces (as arrangements, I mean) in that they simply transfer melodic material to the violin, leaving the piano to intone any ‘remaining’ harmonic matter or accompaniment material, or else - occasionally - to engage in whatever melodic dialogue the soloist is unable to accommodate. So these aren’t the kind of transcriptions you’d expect of a true composer. The violin is very much the centre of attention, almost to the point of requiring the composer to take a back seat. Indeed, the act of transposing the originals (whether by an all-important semitone, or by as much as a third) to suit the ‘new’ instrument is bound to alter the tonal character of the music fundamentally.

The immortal Berceuse is perhaps an extreme example of this kind of ‘deformation’. Cerné’s arrangement offers the bizarre combination of a hyperactive violin part - so busy as to tax the most virtuosic of soloists - and a piano part so stripped bare of any musical interest as to run the risk of anaesthetising pianist and audience! Chopin’s original combines a wonderfully ornate right hand over a mesmersingly repetitive left hand pattern. It is a divine inspiration and - sorry to be inflexible - cannot survive voicing for two instruments!

There is inevitably some gain to compensate for this loss. The violin is, of course, able to sing ‘through’ notes where the piano’s tone decays, and to gather its tone consistently through a crescendo phrase, whereas the piano can only simulate such things, or progress upwards in crude (sic) dynamic ‘steps’. But the art of any pianist (and any pianist-composer) is to transcend such ‘shortcomings’.

Ms Madroszkiewicz is a very capable player, who is well able to deliver the most demanding of multiple stops, counterpoint, high tessitura and dazzling passage work. But I find her irritatingly inconsistent. In places, her portamento is hugely intrusive - perhaps not untypical of Sarasate or Huberman in their day, but sentimentalising (if not cheapening) Chopin, whose expressive voice was so subtle. It makes you realise just what an excellent singing voice the piano is!

Similarly, her phrasing. Sometimes, matching phrases (echoes, sequences or question-and-answer dialogues) are delivered in annoyingly different ways. And, while at times she seems completely on top of the job, there are other times where everything seems uncomfortably close to the edge, with rubato seemingly determined as much by the need to lighten her burden as to illuminate the music.

Don’t be too deterred by my misgivings. There is some very beautiful music here: indeed, number after number is a pearl of great price! And music such as this is indestructible, and well able to survive this kind of alternative scrutiny. Violinists will be (should be) fascinated! Devotees of the composers will be (should be) wary!

Peter J Lawson


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