Outside Poland the relative popularity of Halka, and of Moniuszko’s choral music generally, has tended to obscure appreciation of his songs. This is a great shame as the music is delightful, lyrical and must be highly pleasing to sing. There have been recitals devoted to his songs over the years and as many mixed recitals in which he has to share disc space with, say, Chopin and Karlowicz. But given their unpretentious concision and often ballad and folkloric inflexion there’s no reason at all why singers - and not just Polish ones - shouldn’t sprinkle a few of their recitals with examples of his art.
Motyl is a fine example, its rippling piano infusing the music with warm lyricism and buoying the vocal line finely. The bold ballad cum salon stance of the Gypsy song Cyganie shows that he is not without declamatory assurance when need be. Equally Dlaczego? is grave and introspective. As one can see the programming is constructed to reveal all facets of his song writing, from the ballad, to the salon to the Mazurka based dance pieces that are also part of his compositional arsenal. The unaffected ease - genial and warm hearted - that permeates Klosek is allied to a brightly borne piano part and is more evidence of unaffected lyricism. In her wry, self-deprecating and amusing note Jadwiga Rappé admits that many years before this was an audition piece of hers - an audition she failed. Some Slavic steel enters for Grozna dziewczynka - the haughty visits to the chest register are hardly the stuff of operatic lore but nor are they meant to be. They simply show the composer could add a degree of theatrical resilience when need be. Some of the songs sound a little like Glinka or, later, Tchaikovsky. Some too cleave more to German models. In Ja ciebie kocham one hears the influence of Schubert. Melancholia, in this case words sung to a child, can be heard in Do dzieciecia. In Do Niemna I hear the influence of Mendelssohn. This could be a sung Song without Words very easily. The river ripples deliciously; visits to the minor key are well timed; the little treble descant is effectively colouristic. The longest setting, Wilija, is also the most extrovert, the most flourishing, Przyczyna is another virile, lyric-salon setting. Elsewhere there is sweetness and a sentiment that does, it’s true, sometimes border on the sentimental.
Moniuszko may have plied the ‘national, domestic and local’ in many of these settings. But he also reveals an inheritance from Schubert, an awareness of contemporary German Romanticism, a shared Slavic inheritance, but above all a sure concern for effective word setting, a variety of form, and a hugely likeable sense of characterisation.
There are full texts with translations, an engaging sleeve-note, and a well judged studio balance between voice and piano. The only demerit is the very short timing. Moniuszko wrote well over 350 songs and it would be good if this May 1986 recital had included more - things like that masterpiece Znasz-li ten kraj. There are so many small scaled settings we could have at least another fifteen or even twenty songs.
Despite her witty self-deprecation Jadwiga Rappé proves a warmly voiced and perceptive singer and her rapport with the poetic Maja Nosowska is solid. Rappé may be best known as an opera and oratorio singer but she is appropriately intimate in these undated settings.