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Ludomir RÓZYCKI (1883-1953)
Piano Works - Volume I
Balladyna (Poemat) op.25 [10:44]
Le Rossignol (The Nightingale) op.55 [4:42]
Graf al (Im Spiel der Wellen/Play of the Waves) op.4 [8:39]
Four Impromptus op.6 [11:40]
Four Intermezzi op.42 [11:26]
Trois Morceaux op.15 [9:00]
Funf Fantasiestücke op.46 [15:26]
Valentina Seferinova (piano)
rec. Studio S2, Polish Radio, Warsaw, Poland, 28-29 April 2012.
All works are world premičre recordings.

My musical education continues apace thanks to my work with MusicWeb International. Every new list of CDs to review includes works by composers unknown to me. This month is no exception. I am always tempted to select such discs as the discoveries are invariably surprising as well as delightful. With this, the third disc I’ve tackled today, I’m already on my fourth newly-discovered composer and there are two more unknowns still in the “pipeline”!
The Polish record company Acte Préalable sports a subtitle “leading label promoting Polish music and musicians”. It fully earns that watch phrase with its continued mission to delve into the recesses of Polish music to reveal the hidden gems that have been unjustifiably forgotten. This disc is a case in point since the name of Rózycki all but disappeared following his death, as recently as 1953 and all the music on this disc are world premičre recordings. This is really hard to understand when you read that his Pan Twardowski, Poland’s first large-scale ballet to be performed abroad, was given no fewer than 800 performances in Warsaw. This seems a real pity once you hear the music and it serves to underline the huge value that Acte Préalable is delivering to the world of music with such releases.
The son of a father who was both a pianist and teacher Rózycki was fortunate to grow up in a household steeped in music and which often welcomed into it the leading composers of the day, such as Ignacy Jan Paderewski and Zygmunt Noskowski - another composer whose music is to be found on this label. It was Noskowski who became his composition teacher when he went to the Warsaw Conservatory, from which he left in 1904 as a gold medal winning graduate.
It was Brahms who confessed how difficult it was to write anything when the shadow of Beethoven seemed to loom so large and any writer of piano music, especially a Polish one, must to some extent feel the weight of Chopin’s legacy bearing down upon them. In fact it would be a surprise not to hear some echoes of the influence of Chopin in the work of such a composer and so it is with Rózycki but that’s where it ends for his piano music is also marked by originality.
Along with the composers Mieczyslaw KarlowiczKarol Szymanowski and Grzegorz Fitelberg, Rózicki was a founder member of the Mloda Polska (Young Poland) movement. Its self-proclaimed mission was to re-invigorate music in Poland and re-establish its own original voice free from outside influences. The more of his piano music you hear the more difficult it is to understand how it can have been ignored for so long and you find yourself pitying those generations who may have missed out on hearing it.
Characterised by the most ravishingly delicious melodies this disc has been a joy to hear. Spanning the period from the early years of the twentieth century to the late 1920s Rózycki’s music is unashamedly romantic though with plenty of evidence of expressionism. There’s also a debt to the impressionism of composers such as Debussy. It imbues the music with splashes of colour that help make it irresistible. It has a mix of sweeping grandeur and a gentle romance that is highly attractive.
All of this is in evidence throughout the first work on the disc, his Balladyna that dates from 1909 when it was composed in Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine). By turns calm and stormy this composition is a mature work that will have listeners knit their brows in disbelief that such music can have remained so obscure for so long. Rózycki’s powerful ability to paint pictures in music is again ably demonstrated with the next piece, Le Rossignol, a highly effective representation of the nightingale complete with beating wings and nocturnal singing. Dating from 1906 his Im Spiel der Wellen/Play of the Waves drew its inspiration from a trip on the Baltic and a painting by the Swiss symbolist artist Arnold Böcklin, whose painting Isle of the Dead inspired Rachmaninov to compose his work of the same name. Just as Debussy’s La Mer perfectly evokes the sea in all its majesty Rózycki’s eight and a half minute piece describes the waves in various moods from gentle lapping to thunderous crashing. In addition it includes a description of the mythical creatures of the deep and the flirtation of two lovers. It is worth noting that this was composed at the time he had met his one true love Stefania Mlawska. Shades of Scriabin are apparent in Rózycki’s Four Impromptus that he wrote in 1904. This was around the time he left the Conservatory. He dedicated them to Stefania soon after their wedding. As with Scriabin’s works these pieces are overtly romantic and despite the few darker moments there is a dreamlike quality about them that is immediately appealing. This is particularly true in the third of the set which is especially magical. His Four Intermezzi come next. The first of these features a really dreamy melody in the unusual metre of 12/8. The second is immediately reminiscent of Chopin marked Tanz intermezzo and it dances delightfully for an all too brief period of under two minutes. The third of the set is striking for its rippling, slightly anxious nature while the last is full of beautifully lively undulating rhythms. During a stay in Zakopane, his first visit to the Tatras he was struck by their majesty and by grandeur of the landscape. He was inspired to compose his Trois Morceaux. Staying in a villa at the invitation of the artistic Witkiewicz family at the same time as the composer Karlowicz and three others - it must have been some villa - he dedicated the third of them, Počme to Maria Witkiewicz “in memory of musical evenings in the year 1905”. All three of them are little gems full of evocations of the beauty of the countryside and are simple in the best sense of the word. The finally we hear the Fantasiestücke that he wrote around 1919. These confirm his love of symbolism which permeates these pieces. They are colourful in the best Debussian tradition of painting in music. Each shows his maturity - charming works of beautiful simplicity. The opening of the second is a particular example of this with its tinkling sounds which are so gently restful despite its generally melancholic nature. The third is quite a contrast with a playfully truculent air. The penultimate piece is a lullaby with a wonderfully sublime and fanciful quality. The very last signs things off in a strongly stated way that exemplifies this composer’s enviable ability to create miniatures of clarity, grace and exceptional beauty.
Thus ends another musical voyage of discovery. I’m looking forward to another disc of his music. It contains chamber works with piano and again is from the most enterprising and valuable Acte Préalable.
The present disc is played by Bulgarian pianist Valentina Seferinova. She is highly thought of by the label’s producer Jan Jarnicki and with good reason for she has made a convincing argument for this unjustly neglected composer. Acte Préalable has used her previously for a disc of piano music by Zygmunt Noskowski.
This is a disc to enjoy and it proves yet again that there is so much wonderful music to be heard outside charmed circle established around the biggest names. It is a real joy to have that lesson made in such a compelling and authoritative way. I eagerly await further volumes of Rózycki’s piano music.
Steve Arloff