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Władisław ŻELEŃSKI (1837-1921)
Deux Morceaux Op. 63
Toccata [5:27]; Idylle in B major [4:47] [10.14]
Oda do mlodosci. Marsz uroczysty [Ode to Youth. Solemn March] Op. 51 [9.51]
Marsz uroczysty ku czci niesmiertelnego wieszcza Adama Mickiewicza [Solemn March in Honour of the Immortal National Bard Adam Mickiewicz] Op. 44 [11.01]
Deux Mazurkas Op. 31 [10.20]
Sonata in E minor, Op. 20 [32.41]
Joanna Lawrynowicz (piano)
rec. Warsaw, 2004-05.

Żeleński is one of a number of Polish composers championed by this label though he’s one of the more circumscribed compositionally. Born near Cracow he studied there and in Prague and Paris. Back in Cracow he began a distinguished pedagogic career - succeeding Moniuszko as composition teacher - before moving to an even more distinguished position in Warsaw. He was soon back in Cracow however and was eventually to become Director of the Music Conservatoire. So, a strong academic pedigree and clearly an important teacher – his most famous pupil was Zygmunt Stojowski.

As for his piano music we have here a selection, both big and small. The two Morceaux offer a Toccata, which starts with a rhetorical flourish but has a rather staid central section and a poetic Idylle written in a kind of harmonically updated Chopinesque style. The Ode to Youth opens with a strenuous march but does relax. There’s something rather dogged about it and no really convincing sense of development, though I did wonder if greater use of the pedal might have helped, at least superficially. The noble tread and poetic counter-themes of the Bardic March are attractive if rather predictable and by rote.

More interesting are the two Mazurkas, though the notes are pitching it very high to claim that they’re the equal of Chopin’s. The little harmonic shifts give them glint and life; the second is the bigger work but is less focused and less impressive than its more compact brother. That leaves the big Sonata, a half-hour plus work. Once again the pervasive influence is Chopin though there’s a touch of late Schumann about the first movement. Structurally this movement doesn’t hang together that well and for all the little Lisztian moments of bravura, attention will shift more to the slow movement. This has a rather jaunty central panel and unfolds a set of well-crafted variations, grave then lyrical. The finale is a fugato workout but fortunately not too academic.

Broadly unadventurous though it is Żeleński’s music is often warm and appealing. When it’s bombastic it’s much less interesting. Joanna Lawrynowicz brings admirable control though at one or two points I wondered whether she might not have tried to mitigate some of the more sprawling moments. Otherwise she’s fine and so are the production values of this admirable Polish company.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Glyn Pursglove




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