Roman MACIEJEWSKI (1910-1998)
Complete Piano Mazurkas
Mazurka nos. 1-39 and 21bis [137:11]
Anna Brozek (piano)
rec. 8-10 September 2008, 29-30 December 2008, 3-4 September 2009. DDD
SARTON RECORDS 003-4.2 [67:02 + 70:09]
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.
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Should be acquired by all admirers of quality piano music.