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Polish 20th Century Sonatas for Flute and Piano
Adam SWIERZYNSKI (1914-1997)
Kaszuby Dance [2:56]
Tadeusz SZELIGOWSKI (1896–1963)
Sonata for Flute and Piano (1953) [13:05]
Alexander TASMAN (1897–1986)
Sonata for Flute and Piano (1925) [10:54]
Cracow Folk Dance  [3:17]
Boleslaw WOYTOWICZ (1899–1980)
Sonata for Flute and Piano (1952) [19:21]
Seagulls [5:03]
Sonata for Flute and Piano (1954) [14:33]
Marta A. Balinska (flute)
Bernard Job (piano)
rec. 18th Century Music Salon, Hôtel de Monaco (currently Polish Embassy), Paris, dates not given
DUX 0545 [70:42]

This is an intriguing disc, with a trio of less well-known Polish composers, a programme which contains no obvious ‘hits’ but does have three world premiere recordings and is therefore well deserving of attention, and not only for the historical and geographical position from which some of the pieces come.
Adam Swierzynski was a symphonist, writer of a brace of concertos, a handful of songs and chamber and solo compositions. His Kaszuby Dance is quite a substantial piece for its three minutes, displaying some harmonic quasi-polytonality as well as the expected rhythmic dance characteristics its title would suggest. Unlike the other composers on this disc, Swierzynski did not travel to Paris, and his work is comparatively conservative – the Cracow Folk Dance having distinct romantic elements as a vehicle for virtuoso display. His work was often given historical or descriptive titles, and Seagulls relates to the cry of these birds as they wheel around his beloved Baltic coast.
Swierzynski’s Sonata extends this colourful musical language into a four movement work, slow-fast-slow-fast, and marked espressivo, scherzando, cantabile and giocoso respectively. There are some Szymanowskian hints in the harmonies and slightly exotic scales in some of the melodic lines, but it would be hard to argue that this is anything more than usefully pleasant, well composed repertoire fodder. There is little which is unexpected in the skittish scherzo, the lyrical cantabile, and the amiable themes of the finale. The score is something of a survivor, having been discovered as an unpublished manuscript in the archives of the National Library in Poland.
Tadeusz Szeligowski studied in Paris from 1928 to 1931 with Nadia Boulanger (as did Boleslaw Woytowicz), and on his return to Poland became a significant educator and president of the Union of Polish Composers. His oeuvre displays a certain eclecticism, neoclassicism being a feature of his post-war work, neo-romanticism and folk influences pre-war. His 1947 Sonata appears as a “witty pastiche of didactic school works” and indeed does skit between folkish rhythms and Debussy-like warmth, as well as some of those bells and fireworks that recall an impressionistic style. Dances and a sleigh ride also appear, and the whole piece is great fun for players and audience alike.
Aleksander Tansman flourished in 1920s Paris, and, like Martinů and others, embraced the influences which made that city a hotbed of creativity in the arts. Jazz, exoticism, almost everything imaginable for the period is thrown into the mix. The jazz influence comes out most in the Fox-trot Scherzo with which you can baffle your muso friends, who will probably yell ‘Schulhoff!’ at the top of their voices. The youthful ebullience in the music is quite infectious, but sound compositional principles are always the basis.
Boleslaw Woytowicz’s three movement Sonata was written just five years before Poulenc’s famous work for flute and piano, and demands a similar virtuosity from the musicians. It is on the whole a darker work than the Poulenc, even the more exuberant passages having a heavier tread and lesser longevity – the mood being often reflective and introvert, even in the opening Allegro. The second Andantino alla canzona cannot escape comparison with Erik Satie, and the concluding Vivo is lively in spurts, dipping frequently back into that more sober mood which appears in the opening movement.
This recording seeks to create a specific musical environment, using a mid-20th century Bechstein for the accompaniment, and using the pleasantly roomy but not overly spacious acoustic of one of Paris’ salon music halls. One can indeed imagine the music being presented at private or exclusive subscription concerts in such a space. The balance of the recording is good, with the flute at a realistic level against the piano, which is capably driven by Bernard Job and doesn’t sound too ‘historic’. My only slight caveat is with Marta Balinska’s playing, which can sound a little strained, strangled and wobbly at times. She has a knack of playing in tune which is more important, so the music is easy enough on the ears. This is a thoughtfully presented and adventurous release from Dux, and as such is deserving of success.
Dominy Clements  


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