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Wladyslaw Szpilman – Legendary Recordings
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Polonaise-Fantasie Op.61 [11.38]
Ballade in F minor Op.52 [10.30]
Nocturne in C minor Op. posth. (KK Iva No.16) [3.37]
Alfred GRUNFELD (1852-1924)

Soirée de Vienne. Concert paraphrase on Johann Strauss’ Fledermaus Waltz Op.56 [5.53]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

La fille aux cheveux de lin (Prelude No.8) [2.06]
Grazyna BACEWICZ (1909-1969)

Sonata No.2 14.12]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Sonata No.7 in B flat major Op.83 [17.29]
Peter and the Wolf [3.30]
Ignaz FRIEDMAN (1882-1948)

Wiener Tanze nach Edyard Gartner No.1 [3.21]
Wladyslaw SZPILMAN (1911-2000)

Toccatina (The Life of the Machines, Suite for Piano, Movement III) [1.40]
Mazurka [2.08]
Jazz Melody [6.19]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)

Summertime
Wladyslaw SZPILMAN (1911-2000)

Fall in Love Again
Richard ROGERS (1902-1979)

Blue Moon
Friedrich HOLLANDER (1896-1976)

Falling in Love Again
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Violin Sonata No.5 in F major Op.24 Spring [22.18]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

Sonata in C minor Op.45 [23.42]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Rondo (based on Sonata Op.53) [5.30]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Slavonic Dance Op.46 No.2 [3.15]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)

Obertas [1.59]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)

Nigun No.2 [5.58]
Karol RATHAUS (1895-1954)

Pastorale and Dance fro violin and piano Op.39 [12.42]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Piano Quintet in E flat major Op.44 [29.05]
Juliusz ZAREBSKI (1854-1885)

Piano Quintet in G minor Op.34
Wladyslaw Szpilman (piano)
Bronislaw Gimpel (violin)
The Warsaw Piano Quintet
Recorded live in Warsaw and Stockholm 1946-1965
SONY 82876728552 [3 CDs: 79.31 + 79.18 + 66.02]

 

Should you not be aware of the fact Wladyslaw Szpilman, who died in 2000, was the eponymous Pianist of Roman Polanski’s celebrated film and the author of the book from which it derived. The soundtrack of the film has proved durable and Szpilman’s own works for piano and orchestra (he was an able composer as well) have been recorded by Sony. So this three-disc set should well have something of a constituency, especially as it fuses some intriguing repertoire, performances and chamber groups.

Let’s peruse the repertoire first; Chopin, naturally, but also the broadcast premiere of Bacewicz’s Second Piano Sonata from 1953; Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata in a good performance but also a Jazzmelody (so-called) of Gershwin and Rodgers. The second disc reunites Szpilman with an old and dear colleague of his from before the War, that splendid violinist Bronislaw Gimpel - you might have his Vox box on your shelf with its delectable Bruch, Dvorak and Goldmark concerto recordings. They run through two standard sonatas – Grieg’s Op.45 and Beethoven’s Spring - and join in some sparkling morceaux. The third disc is given over to the chamber group of which they were members, the Warsaw Piano Quintet, which toured widely and is here represented by two works; the Schumann and, in a rare outing, the Zarebski Quintet in G.

The performances with Gimpel – both were born in 1911 though the violinist died in 1979 – are the works of congenial and long-standing friends. They exude Old World charm – and verities; there’s nothing tensile or over-rushed in the Spring. It’s a leisurely reading, with Szpilman adept at bass etching and with plenty of limpid generosity in the slow movement - and slightly shallow piano tone. Accompanying violin figures are always properly balanced – Gimpel was never one of those "hear me at all costs" fiddle players – and its marshalling of subsidiary figures in the finale is excellent. A mellow reading, this, elegant and colouristic and not propulsive or theatrical. The same approach is followed in the Grieg from five years later in 1965 where the two rely on colour and tonal inflexion more than pure projection. One can note Szpilman’s precisely graded work in the opening movement and the way both men stabilise the potentially discursive writing; the pawky piano writing is wittily explored, its stalking bass line not a feature that others routinely investigate. The folk elements are successfully characterised, as are the more obviously lyric moments. I think admirers will welcome the duo’s leisurely and affectionate approach to these sonatas

The smaller violin pieces include an ebullient Wieniawski, and a virtuosic and colour-packed Bloch Nigun. Of more interest is the Rathaus Pastorale and dance, written in 1937, and a sparky, Prokofiev-influenced opus with some warm moments of impressionism threaded through its lyricism.

Their Piano Quintet taped this brace of quintets in Warsaw in 1963 and 1965. The Schumann receives a warm and attractive reading, albeit one rather tonally dominated by Gimpel. But the unanimity of the string work is notable, and predictably so as they clearly made for a tonally homogenous group. The Zarebski is a real rarity. It has a rather Brahmsian ethos and is a boldly confident work. The highlight is the beautiful Adagio, which spins an effusive intertwining lyricism to great effect. If only it were more concise. At twelve minutes in length one could do with moving on. Still the Scherzo and Finale are bold and vigorous, full of dance rhythms and dynamism.

The solo works go back as far as 1946, the earliest recordings in the set. His Chopin Polonaise-Fantasie is unaffected and patently sincere and the Ballade in F equally attractive. The Bacewicz is a significant piece, dedicated to Szpilman and here in its first broadcast performance. It has plenty of her Prokofiev-derived drive but is none the worse for that and its compact four movement structure (with Baroque indications) demands attention. There’s more Chopin in the shape of the Nocturne in C minor Op. posth. which, despite the so-so broadcast quality, fails to dampen Szpilman’s wonderfully singing tone. His own Mazurka is a gentle homage to Chopin and the Old School Friedman and Grunfeld are finely done. He wasn’t above a jazzy tune or two – and he’d obviously been listening to Teddy Wilson whose stylistic fingerprints loom large in the 1949 Jazzmelody.

Szpilman was clearly a musician of significant gifts; we know he gave performances of the big concertos but here we find that he was adaptable and sensitive and a clearly consummate sonata colleague and chamber ally. As a solo player he allied technical command with a warmly singing and rounded tone. Pretty much everything here is well worth hearing – irrespective of whether you’ve seen the film or not. The booklet is a generous one, with plenty of well-reproduced pictures, promotional material and with a most involving text written by Szpilman’s son Andrzej. The only blot is that I find I can’t cope with dual texts, English on the left hand page and German on the right. My eye runs on to the next page to meet a flood of umlauts and capitals. But otherwise this three disc set stands the test and is a worthy memorial to Szpilman.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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