Piano Preludes
Wojciech KILAR (b.1932)
Three Preludes (1951) [4:41]
Kazimierz SEROCKI (1922 - 1981)
Suite of Preludes (1952) [11:54]
Zygmunt MYCIELSKI (1907 - 1987)
Six Preludes (1954) [10: 43]
Henryk Mikołaj GORECKI (b.1933)
Four Preludes, op.1 (1955) [7:57]
Miłosz MAGIN (1929 - 1999)
Five Preludes (1963) [8:09]
Krzysztof KNITTEL (b.1947)
Four Preludes (1983) [6:58]
Paweł MYKIETYN (b.1971)
Four Preludes (1992) [10:59]
Magdalena Prejsnar (piano)
rec. January 2009, Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw DDD
DUX 0699 [61:21]

A disk of 33 short piano pieces, written by seven different composers over the space of 41 years might seem a daunting prospect yet this is a very enjoyable and fascinating collection of pieces, which makes for very pleasant listening.

Wojciech Kilar’s Three Preludes contain a delightfully malicious Shostakovich-style waltz-cum-gallop, followed by a simple song with chordal accompaniment. The final piece is reminiscent of Gershwin’s Three Preludes, being full of urban clangour. These are very approachable pieces and most entertaining.

Kazimierz Serocki’s Suite of Preludes consists of seven miniatures. The first is motoric, the second bluesy - most unexpected, this - then back to the fierce motor rhythms. Number 4 is a peaceful repetition of broken chords, no.5 a fleeting Chopin-esque rush of notes. The last two display a modern attitude. No.6 insists on a repeated chord breaking the robotic progress of a line of single notes, and the last Prelude starts like the accompaniment to Charles Ives’s song The Swimmer then goes off on its own wayward way. This is a very satisfying composition where the composer really has something to say and he says it with the minimum of fuss and without any padding. Not a note is wasted here and although there isn’t a hint of the composer Serocki was to become - I’m thinking of such pieces as Fantasmagoria for piano and percussion (1971), Ad libitum, five pieces for symphony orchestra (1973/1977) and Pianophonie for piano, electronic transformation of sound and orchestra (1976/1978) - there is enough quirkiness to let you know that here is an important composer trying to find his voice.

After these two works, Zygmunt Mycielski’s Six Preludes seem a backward step. These pieces are charming and even when the music raises its voice it is never in a heated moment. Throughout we have the work of a gentleman, who is intent on not saying the wrong thing in public or putting his foot in his mouth. Perhaps not as musically important as the Kilar or Serocki pieces, these Preludes make a delightful rest before the next composer. He started his career as a major figure of the avant-garde and with his 3rd Symphony, The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, became the darling of the new music set, thanks to a minimalist Symphony and a meditative masterpiece in the John Tavener mold.

Let’s get one thing clear. Whilst Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony isn’t the towering masterpiece we all thought it was when it appeared, it is still a fine piece of work - and in terms of emotional power it is streets ahead of a work such as The Protecting Veil. What this composer has achieved - both before and after his musical re-birth - is quite astonishing. Here we have the man at the very start of his career, finding his way and having fun. These pieces are small-scale both in playing time and invention, and whilst there’s nothing to suggest that within five years he would write both the delightful double Piano Concerto, Songs of Joy and Rhythm, op.7 (1959/1960) and the arch modernist orchestral work Scontri, op.17 (1960) there are sufficient disquieting moments to make you wonder what might happen next.

Miłosz Magin’s Five Preludes begin with music which suggests a comedy scene; it is quite funny. What is interesting about these pieces is that they seem to be re-inventing older forms, thus I find more than a nod to Chopin, in an affectionate way, in the slow pieces and an acknowledgement to Szymanowski in the fast ones.

Krzysztof Knittel’s Four Preludes make an interesting set for here is a more modern voice insofar as the composer is writing in a detached manner, keeping a safe distance between himself and his composition. By turns quasi-religious, then Stravinsky bluff, this is a strange brew which is very enjoyable. Paweł Mykietyn’s Four Preludes is the most recent music on the disk. His language is certainly more modern than any other heard before on this disc. He knows how to suspend time - the first Prelude which plays for a trifle over three minutes seems much bigger - and how to mix the more modern with the jocular - imagine underarm clusters adding to the sense of fun?

This is a recital of modern piano music with a difference - it is enjoyable as well as entertaining and introduces us to a couple of composers whose names are unknown. I expected the disk to be OK, enjoyable but limited due to the number of short pieces involved, but what I found was a mass of fascinating music, very well played and brilliantly recorded. DUX is to be thanked for this disk, for it is a welcome change from so many contemporary piano recitals in that one can actually whistle the tunes and want to play it again. Full marks DUX!

Bob Briggs