Zygmunt NOSKOWSKI (1846-1909)

Chamber Works – vol. 3
Trois pičces pour violon et piano Op.24 (c.1890) [12:59]
Chansonnette d’Ukraine Op.26 No.2a (1890) [1:01]
Berceuse Op.11 (1880) [3:10]
Violin Sonata in A minor (before 1875) [39:47]
Jolanta Sosnowska (violin)
Donát Deáky (piano)
rec. July 2009 and February 2010, Vienna
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.
Jonathan Woolf
Keen, warm performances and decent recording though I doubt Noskowski will make much real headway in this selection.