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Apolinary SZELUTO (1884–1966)
Cello Sonata in F, op.9 (1906) [16:43]
Violin Sonata in D, op.73 (1931) [23:36]
String Quartet in E flat, op.72 (1930/1931) [36:02]
Konstanty Andrzej Kulka (violin); Andrzej Wróbel (cello); Andrzej Tatarski (piano); Camerata Vistula Quartet (Andrzej Gębski – Wojciech Proniewicz (violins) – Grzegorz Chmielewski (viola); Andrzej Wróbel (cello))
rec. June 2008, 5–1 Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw DDD
DUX 0672 [76:40]
Experience Classicsonline

Who was Apolinary Szeluto? Born in Leningrad, he studied at the Faculty of Law in Warsaw from 1902 to 1905 whilst having composition lessons from Zygmunt Noskowski  at the State Conservatory. After three years of piano study with Leopold Godowski he completed his law studies and worked in the Russian legal system from 1911 to 1918. After the outbreak of the Revolution he was appointed Chairman of the Revolutionary Committee and following his return to Poland he was head of a department in the Ministry of Justice from 1923 to 1938. During the Nazi occupation of Poland he wrote 14 Symphonies and became a baker and street trader. After the war he wrote another 3 Symphonies, a Piano Concerto and retired as a District Court Judge to devote himself entirely to composition and performance. In 1948 he proposed a reform of the spelling of the Polish language making it easier for all classes.
His output is quite large and includes seventeen symphonies, seven operas and a ballet as well as other orchestral works and chamber music.
The Cello Sonata is a pleasing, if somewhat old-fashioned, and not particularly inspired, work – it could have been written at any time during the previous 40 years. It reeks of undiluted Brahms, and there’s more than a hint of Richard Strauss’s Sonata for the same instrument. By this I don’t mean that it is influenced by Brahms; I mean that it could have been written by him, only the occasional turn of phrase or harmony show that it wasn’t the German master. Wróbel plays it as if giving the Brahms sonatas and gives a bold and romantic reading to the work. This makes me wonder if he is actually doing a disservice to the piece. A little less intensity might show it to be a more approachable and enjoyable work. The material really cannot stand this kind of hot-house performance.
It’s interesting that Busoni wrote that Szeluto’s work indicated a “… great creative talent, with extremely individual nature” and Fritz Kreisler said that “His compositions are completely different from everything else.” I have to admit to being rather confused by these statements for neither seems at all possible for although the other two works on this disk are much more mature and display a surer compositional hand, I don’t feel a really individual voice at work. Both are well written and are in a rich and very romantic style but they don’t really go anywhere or say anything which grabs my attention. Although the notes claim that they are Polish in spirit they seem much more comfortably German late-romantic. There are none of the folk influences which make Szymanowski’s later works so exciting and vital. In fact I would point to Reger as being the spirit behind these works, except that that composer is always alive to his invention. This music never takes flight.
The performances sound to be very spontaneous and the musicians make the most of the music. They obviously have faith in it, but no amount of advocacy can infuse life into something which seems to be, basically, dull. The recording is superb and the notes fascinating and although it’s interesting to discover a new voice from a period which is well known to us, I cannot see how repeated hearings of this music could bring about further investigation of this composer. Perhaps his orchestral music is brilliant, but we may never know.
Bob Briggs



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