If one has heard much or anything about him at all, Wladyslaw
Zelenski has garnered a reputation as a composer for the voice.
Nevertheless this label has been actively promoting his music
forces and for piano
as well, so it’s good to encounter his compositions once more.
Briefly, as I wrote in a previous review, he was born near Cracow
and studied there and in Prague and Paris. Back in Cracow he
began a distinguished pedagogic career - succeeding Moniuszko
as composition teacher - before moving to an even more distinguished
position in Warsaw. He was soon back in Cracow however and was
eventually to become Director of the Music Conservatoire. So,
a strong academic pedigree and clearly an important teacher
– his most famous pupil was Zygmunt Stojowski.
The big work in this release is the Piano Quartet. In its rugged,
sinewy direction it recalls, as so often in his music, the influence
of Brahms. This is particularly true of the piano writing, which
is strongly muscular and full of urgent power. Material is nicely
contrasted in the extensive and impressive opening movement,
though I hear distinct reminiscences of Brahms’s First Piano
Concerto. In addition to this influence, Zelenski leans strongly
to stern Slavic models and this, combined with his gift for
melody and very busy writing, gives the music an attractively
clotted feel. In the Romanza the cello sings a Song
without Words, and here one feels the impress of Zelenski’s
powerful vocal qualities. Noteworthy is the terse B section
and also the songful reprise, now decorated by elegant piano
figuration. Witty piano chimes animate the scherzo, whilst the
sheer sweep of the composer can be gauged by the finale which,
whilst rather disappointingly conventional, is still well laid
The companion work is the Variations on an original theme
in G minor for string quartet, written significantly earlier
— though neither work, unfortunately, is dated in the notes.
The yearning theme is rather lovely, and we pass through eight
variations, including a fugal section, a Siciliana
and an Alla Polacca. Throughout, the string writing
is idiomatic and effective, not least the rising unison effect
produced and the quietly withdrawn way Zelenski ends the piece.
It’s by no means a major work but at a quarter of an hour in
length an attractive one.
The major work is the Piano Quartet, extremely well performed
and recorded, which once again advances the claims of this Polish
composer as a valued follower of Brahms.