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Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Polonaise brillante in A major, Op.21 (1870) [9:11]
Legend, Op.17 (1860) [7:09]
Józef WIENIAWSKI (1837-1912)
Sonata in D minor, Op.24  [57:46]
Patrycja Piekutowska (violin); Edward Wolanin (piano)
rec. 2005/2006, Pomeranian Philharmonic Concert Hall, Bydgoszczy, Poland. DDD
DUX 0543 [74:08]


In the 1940 edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Paul David contributes a column-length entry on Henryk Wieniawski, almost all of which is devoted to his career as a violinist, from his days as a child prodigy, through the years of touring, his time as solo-violinist to the Tsar, in St. Petersburg, and all the way through to his last tour, undertaken when in ill-health. This gives rise to a bizarre anecdote: “During a concert which he gave in Berlin, he was suddenly seized by a spasm and compelled to stop in the middle of a concerto. Joachim, who happened to be in the audience, without much hesitation stepped on to the platform, took up Wieniawski’s fiddle, and finished the programme amid the enthusiastic applause of an audience delighted by so spontaneous an act of good fellowship”. Only at the very end of this account of Wieniawski the virtuoso does Wieniawski the composer get any kind of mention. In its entirety, David’s account of his work as a composer reads as follows: “His compositions – two concertos, a number of fantasias, pičces de salon, and some studies – are not of much importance, though much played”.   

“Not of much importance”, certainly, in the grand musical scheme of things, and one dreads to think of the consequences of living on a musical diet entirely made up of such sweetmeats. But so long as over-indulgence is avoided, there’s no reason not to enjoy the best of Wieniawski’s “pičces de salon”. They have of course long been the plaything of virtuosos, from Heifetz to Ositrakh, Ricci to Perlman. Here two of Wieniawski’s larger morceaux are played by the excellent young Polish violinist Patrycja Piekutowska. Though there is no doubting the security of her technique, she resists any temptation to indulge in mere flashiness. The G minor tune in the first section of the Légende is played with a serious wistfulness and the middle section is persuasively optimistic. Piekutowska and Wolanin’s performance of the reprise is genuinely touching, in a sentimental kind of way. The Polonaise brillante in A major, written some eighteen years after Wieniawski’s other better known Polonaise, in D major, was one of the composer’s last compositions of any substance. This is a longer piece, which certainly has its moments of ‘brilliance’ – not least in the famous staccato which, to borrow some words from Agnieszka Jeż’s booklet notes, “spans 18 notes played in a single move of the bow (plus trills)”. As Jeż dryly observes, “it was not without reason that it was dubbed a ‘devilish’ staccato”. Such technical problems – though they seem to be no problem to Piekutowska – are set in a generally very elegant musical frame. Nothing digs very deep, and it is all perhaps something of a ‘period’ taste – but Piekutowska and Wolanin certainly put forward the music’s limited claims very persuasively.

Józef, the younger brother, seems always to have been the less ‘glamorous’ of the pair. He too was a gifted child; he too won prizes, in extreme youth, at the Paris Conservatoire. He toured with his older brother for several years. But less extrovert, perhaps less ambitious for fame, Józef took little of the limelight. With the passage of time he seems largely to have faded from sight. The same edition of Grove quoted above says this – in total, in an unsigned paragraph – about him: “brother of the above, was an eminent pianist, trained at the Paris Conservatoire and with Liszt at Weimar. He toured much with his brother, held a professorship at the Moscow Conservatoire ad later at the Brussels Conservatoire. He was the composer of some chamber music and pianoforte music”. This time the compositions don’t even merit a judgement or the most rudimentary of listings. I cannot remember that I have ever previously heard anything by Józef Wieniawski. On the evidence of this thoroughly interesting Sonata, we certainly ought to hear some more of his work. The sonata has a certain unpompous grandeur of conception, its four fairly lengthy movements marked allegro moderato – andante religiosos – scherzo; allegro molto vivace e gioioso – allegro appassionato ma non troppo presto. There is some decidedly fine writing here, not least in the strikingly beautiful andante. The third and fourth movements feature some particularly inventive interplay between violin and piano and some very effective, and often quite abrupt, changes of mood. The piece, heard whole, is of unexpectedly high quality. Never having heard any other performance, and having no score, I can only say that Piekutowska and Wolanin give what sounds like very good performance – if there is even more to the piece than they find in it, I would be even more surprised!

So, a rewarding and enjoyable CD, on which the best music comes from the lesser known of the two brothers.

Glyn Pursglove









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