Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810 - 1849)
Transcriptions
Nocturne in E flat major, op.9 no.2 (arr. Pablo de Sarasate) [4:28]
Etude in E major, op.10 no.3 (arr. K. Weksler/M. Blum) [4:23]
Etude in F minor, op.25 no.2 (arr. Willy Burmester) [1:56]
Prelude in B flat major, op.28 no.21 (arr. Gustaw Adolfson) [2:29]
Prelude in E minor, op.28 no.4 (arr. Gustaw Adolfson) [2:17]
Mazurka in D/A major, op.33 no.2 (arr. Fritz Kreisler) [1:58]
Mazurka in B minor, op.33 no.4 (arr. J. Ebner) [3:49]
Mazurka in A minor, op.67 no.4 (arr. Antoni Cofalik) [3:15]
Nocturne in B flat minor, op.9 no.1 (arr. Karol Lipinski) [7:26]
Nocturne in C sharp minor - Lento con gran espressione (arr. Antoni Cofalik) [4:45]
Nocturne in D flat/D major, op.27 no.2 (arr. August Wilhelmj) [6:26]
Nocturne in E flat major, op.55 no.2 (arr. Camille Saint-SaŽns) [5:08]
Jaroslaw KORDACZUK (b.1967)
Sostenuto: Hommage ŗ Chopin (2009) [5:23]
Jolanta Stopka (violin)
Magdalena Blum (piano)
rec. November - December 2009, Polish Radio Studio S1. Warsaw, DDD
ACTE PREALABLE AP0208 [53:48]

Twelve mainly late-Romantic transcriptions for violin and piano, by ten different hands, of original pieces by Chopin for solo piano. Add to this a homage to Chopin by a relatively unknown contemporary Polish composer, all performed by a young violinist and pianist little known outside their Polish homeland. This may not strike everyone as a priority purchase. Nor should it be thought of as such.

Yet from a musical viewpoint at least, this disc exceeds expectations. The transcribers, ranging from known quantities like Saint-SaŽns, Kreisler and Sarasate, to the rather more obscure Antoni Cofalik and Gustaw Adolfson, have skilfully turned a violinistic hand to the masterly originals. Some of the transcriptions may even surprise those who, from Sarasate perhaps, in the E flat Nocturne (op.9 no.2), or from Kreisler in the Mazurka op.33 no.2, expected less sensitivity.

Indeed, the B minor Mazurka sounds quite natural, lush and rather beautiful with the violin added, particularly in the pizzicato, as does Lipinski's Nocturne in B flat minor arrangement. The E minor Prelude, op.28 no.4 also works well with the violin, although the melody is so hauntingly beautiful that it would probably succeed even on a tuba.

Nonetheless, perhaps only Saint-SaŽns's transcription of the other E flat Nocturne, op.55 no.2, really shows the competence of the composer, rather than the violinist. Whether or not these transcriptions were musically worthwhile endeavours overall remains a moot point.

The CD booklet itself has a feel of quality about it - shiny pages, glossy photos of thoughtful-looking artists, clear font on white background - but, unlike the music, turns out to be worse than promised.

To begin with, on a CD of Chopin's music, it seems a little ironic and unfair to give the violinist, for all her talent, star-billing on the front cover (in lettering twice the size of Chopin's) without even mentioning the pianist!

Moreover, the Acte Prťalable website promises liner-notes "written by distinguished specialists, [which] provide in many cases an indispensable compendium of knowledge that could hardly be found anywhere else". Well, not in this case. The notes here are unsigned and translated by a non-native speaker of English, giving a few awkward moments like "Himself Chopin composed over fifty mazurkas" and "Chopin was highly favourable of her efforts".

More importantly, the notes are too brief and hit-and-miss. Though all the pieces are discussed, inexplicably in only about a half of these does the transcription itself get a mention. The rest refer only to Chopin's original - which is not what this disc is primarily about. Pianist Magdalena Blum's involvement in the transcription of the E Major Etude is mentioned, but there is no indication given as to how the work divides up between her and fellow named transcriber K Weksler.

As for the Sostenuto - Hommage ŗ Chopin by Jarek Kordaczuk, this is a short but attractive work, written in late-Romantic idiom, and composed for violinist Stopka. Unfortunately the CD booklet again falls short, revealing nothing further about the piece, nor about the composer. The work's connection with Chopin is not obvious. Any element of homage is brief at best. Kordaczuk would have been better served by a whole CD of his music, which here is marred by poorly placed microphones, too close and repeatedly picking up a low-frequency roar.

Apart from the Kordaczuk, the recording is generally well-balanced, the microphones neutrally positioned. The violinist's breath, spoiler of many a recital recording, intrudes only occasionally into the music - though inevitably in the quieter moments.

But there are creakings and other peculiar sounds like someone trying to unwrap furtively a boiled sweet. These are clearly audible in the Lipinski and especially the op.10 no.3 Etude. At the end of the A minor Mazurka, Stopka accidentally twangs one of her violin strings and says something - an oath? - in Polish. There are one or two other 'noises off' that you will only hear through headphones with the volume reasonably high. This is a studio recording and there can really be no excuse for any of them. Many of Acte Prťalable's previous releases have been favourably reviewed on MusicWeb International, but this one, despite the appeal of some of the music, cannot join them without significant reservation.

Byzantion

Many of Acte Prťalable's previous releases have been favourably reviewed here but this cannot join them without significant reservation.