I’m not sure we need go along with the over-enthusiastic biography
of Zygmunt Noskowski in the booklet notes, which claim that he
was ‘a genius’. Industrious, polymathic, devoted, and a pillar
of the emergent Polish musical establishment, certainly, but nothing
in this disc of his chamber music establishes him as a creative
artist of especial distinction.
Which is not to suggest that he is not worth listening to, especially
in the case of the larger works - such as his symphonies, and
the symphonic poem Steppe. Noskowski (1846-1909) studied
in Berlin before returning to his native country to assist in
the creation of the Warsaw Philharmonic. Most of the works in
this third volume of the chamber music series are occasional salon
effusions, character works of some charm but no real pretensions.
The Three Pieces offer good opportunities for the violinist
to present a rich, burnished viola-deep tone, opportunities duly
taken by Jolanta Sosnowska. Something is made, in the notes, of
the fact that she plays on a violin of Noskowski’s time, one that
lends her performance ‘a unique sound’ — a rationale I can’t say
I follow. Would it be any less unique or viable on a Guarnerius?
Did Noskowski himself — a fine fiddler by all accounts — play
on a violin of his own time? Does it matter either way? Let’s
leave these issues to the wayside and concentrate on the music.
One incipient weakness noticeable in this salon opus is the over-extended
second piece, Chanson moderne, which is done to death at
seven minutes in length, and serves notice of a fault to which
one has to recur later in this review.
The Chansonnette d’Ukraine comes from a piano cycle and
is an engaging trifle, very short at one minute in length. Longer,
and better, is the Op.11 Berceuse which has real charm
and is taken at a nicely flowing tempo. The big work here however
is the Violin Sonata, an inflated, overblown, diffuse work desperately
in need of a strong editorial hand. It was probably written during
his days in Berlin. It is melodically profuse — too profuse, too
longwinded — and comes to a full-stop in the long sixteen minute
first movement several times before coming back to life. But the
melodic buoyancy is what saves it, and makes one wonder what he
could have done had he thought to prune it. The second movement
variations — was he thinking of the Kreutzer sonata? —
vary from warm themes to somewhat rhetorical dance motifs. The
finale unleashes a challenging, well constructed but ultimately
rather academic double fugue; its moto perpetuo properties,
though, keep the duo on their toes. I enjoyed it most of the three
movements, possibly because it was the shortest.
I also enjoyed the keen, warm performances of Sonowska and Donát
Deáky, and the decent recording. The notes are helpful if on the
laudatory side. But I doubt Noskowski will make much real headway
in this selection.