This all-Polish double disc from Sarton contains the complete
known Mazurkas of Roman Maciejewski, at least those that he
finished, and mostly in first recordings - only nos. 1-4 and
7-10, recorded by Lech Napierala for Dux (0791), and nos. 6,
9 and 10, recorded by Peter Jablonski for Altara Classics (1030),
have previously appeared on CD.
The numbering of the Mazurkas there and here is not Maciejewski's,
incidentally - he was happy to keep them shut away in a suitcase,
making no attempt to publish them in his lifetime - but one
recently assigned by Polish music publishers PWM in collaboration
with pianist Michal Wesolowski. PWM's new edition was only published
in 2008, shortly before Anna Brozek set out to record them for
Sarton. In any case, they are not, as far as is ever likely
to be known, groupable into a set or sets in the way that Chopin's
or Szymanowski's were collected under various opus numbers.
Despite the quintessential Polishness of the mazurka - or mazurek,
to give it is more linguistically correct title - Maciejewski's
pieces are by turn far more German, American, French and Spanish
sounding than Polish. In fact, his ties with Poland are rather
loose: he was born in Berlin, and left Poland for good in 1934,
heading first for Paris - where he became yet another to have
studied with Nadia Boulanger - before spending most of his life
in the US and especially Sweden, where he ended his days.
Maciejewski's 40 Mazurkas - there are two similar versions of
no.21 - are mainly miniatures: 21 are under three minutes, with
only six lasting more than five. No.15 is by some way the longest,
at 8'25, or 436 bars. No key is given for any of the Mazurkas
in the track listing, and only come with a title: they are,
in translation, 'Little Pipe' (no.8), 'Echo from Tatra' (no.9),
'Dialogue' (no.11), 'In the Evening' (no.13) and 'Fair' (no.14).
In stature and 'anonymity', then, there is some similarity to
Chopin, but in terms of musical substance, these are much more
like Szymanowski's Mazurkas: folk-dance tunes and rhythms pushed
and pulled and otherwise processed through a mind seeing Chopin's
and Maria Szymanowska's original models at a century's remove.
All 22 of Szymanowski's Mazurkas are available, incidentally,
on a bargain price 4 CD box set of his complete piano music
(Divine Art 21400, review),
brilliantly performed by Sinae Lee.
The remoteness of the original folk music in no way implies
that none of the pieces are jaunty or energetic. In fact, brief
as many may be, there is, as with Szymanowski or Skriabin, a
huge variety of mood and structure captured in these works,
and none of the repetition that characterises Chopin's or Szymanowski's
more overtly tradition-derived pieces.
The Mazurkas are not dated individually, but the booklet notes
say they belong to four periods, with the earliest four published
in 1932, more following in the years 1948-51, and the bulk from
1977 onwards, a Mazurka apparently being the last thing Maciejewski
was working on when he died. Yet there is no trace of the avant-gardism
that held more appeal for academic cliques than the wider public
- in fact, Maciejewski deliberately distanced himself from those
trends and instead wrote music that could have come from a traditionalist
contemporary - not necessarily Polish! - of Szymanowski himself.
Above all, Maciejewski's music is both original and very attractive,
and played with great enthusiasm, intelligence and technique
by Anna Brozek, a concert hall champion of Maciejewski's music
in her native Poland.
The music is consistently well recorded, commodious and orotund,
despite the three sessions spanning a year. The booklet does
not say where the recordings took place, but a studio location
is indicated, given the total absence of background noise. There
is also, refreshingly, plenty of 'breathing space' between pieces
- all too often, CD producers top and tail tracks, forgetting
that silence at the end of movements, and especially works,
is an important part of the musical effect.
The Polish-English booklet is very good, with detailed, informative
notes by Anna Brozek, and several atmospheric old photos of
Maciejewski, not least the ones on what is probably the only
CD cover ever to feature photos of the composer pulling funny
faces! Though very easily intelligible, the English translation
has a slightly deranged feeling to it, with the unintentional
humour of some renderings bordering on the surreal: "in
1918 he started education in Julius Stern's conservatory";
"Maciejewski was completely devoted to this idea, until
the moment of its realization" ; "Maciejewski went
to Poland, where he participated in the funeral of his mother."
Maciejewski's early music was appreciated by Szymanowski himself
and the likes of Stanislaw Szpinalski, and his later works,
including many of these Mazurkas, were admired and promoted
by the likes of Rubinstein and Zbigniew Drzewiecki. Brozek writes
that she hopes that "this first recording of all Maciejewski's
mazurkas will make [his] return [to the concert halls] more
complete and durable." In the current climate that is rather
hoping against hope, but at the very least, this double CD should
be acquired by all admirers of quality piano music.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk