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Karol LIPIŃSKI (1790-1861)
Selected Works - Full track-listing below
Konstanty Andrzej Kulka (violin)
Andrzej Gębski (violin); Aurelia Liwanowska-Lisiecka (violin); Anna Orlik (violin); Wojciech Proniewicz (violin); Grzegorz Chmielewski (viola); Andrzej Wróbel (cello); Radosław Nur (bass)
rec. January-July 2012, Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall; or Studio S2 of Polish Radio (Bellini Fantasy; Three Polonaises; Stefani Fantasia; both Trios)
CD ACCORD ACD 181-2 [6 CDs: 362:34]

Try as I might I can find hardly any recordings of the music of Karol Lipiński, before the 1970s. Even that inveterate wrist-crunching pyro-technician, the Moravian Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst, scores higher in that respect - and that means a few precious 78s. Indeed with a Toccata series well underway and Naxos in the stakes, things have never looked better for Ernst. Things have been less kind for Lipiński.
 
Born in 1790 in Radzyń he seems to have had one teacher only - his father - and no conservatoire training. The rumour that he had been Paganini’s pupil was discounted by Lipiński himself in one of his few comments to the press in 1829. He was a concertmaster in Lvov (Lviv, Lemberg) when still a teenager, a five-year stint followed by an Italian sojourn when he certainly met and performed with Paganini. However he went so far explicitly to disclaim the ‘Polish Paganini’ appellation, noting that he would have been honoured to have been a pupil, had it been so, but that he played in a very different manner. What emerges from Lipiński’s article and indeed from another one recounting his later meetings with Paganini are a fine eye for detail and a remarkable modesty and honesty of expression.
 
He was later active as a concertmaster in Germany where he was admired by Schumann and Berlioz. He wasn’t very charitable about Ferdinand David, Mendelssohn’s friend and the Leipzig leader, but then they both vied for the same job, which David won. Come to that, he wasn’t especially nice about Mendelssohn. However that may be, it’s a shame that Lipiński’s music has been so eclipsed. It’s a shame too that he, possibly by virtue of his long immersion in German musical culture, has been largely ignored as a precursor of the emergent later nineteenth-century Polish violin school. Maybe he would have begun to establish such a school himself had he remained in Poland but he spent much of his career in Dresden. He died in 1861.
 
The music in this 6-disc set needs some introduction. Cellist Andrzej Wróbel has arranged much of the original music for differing forces. The only compositions performed in their original versions are the Siciliano with variations, Op.2, the Variations in G major, Op.4, both String Trios and the three Polonaise, Op.9. Much has been arranged for violin and cello accompaniment; some has had the wind instrumentation removed - the Variations, op.5 and Op.15, the Rondo Op.17, and the Adagio elegico, Op.25. Other works have been arranged for string quintet. In short, these are largely reductions for chamber forces.
 
Given the nature of the compositions this isn’t too great a disservice. Clearly a more faithful recording would have reproduced Lipiński’s intentions exactly. I’m sure that for a specialist audience that would have been preferable, especially given how rare this material is on record. His orchestrations tended to be sketchy and largely supportive of the soloistic line. They were not Ernst-like concertos or analogues of Wieniawski’s bigger works. I’m content to hear them at all.
 
He was keen to produce a series of Polacca rondos and Variations in frothy early nineteenth-century style, rather in the vein of Paganini’s operatic variations and exegeses. The variations on La Cenerentola, Op.11 are a violinistic death-trap but more thematically interesting is the Souvenir of the Baltic which is full of playful incident. Naturally bravura is on show, but so too - in the case of the Bravura Variations, Op.22 - is pathos, a lofty quality that he doesn’t overdo but reserves for moments of particular import. It’s a quality that emerges again in the Op.5 Variations.
 
I certainly don’t advise listening to these pieces one after the other. That’s the critic’s duty. The variations and fantasies offer a breath-taking and incessant battery of demands on the soloist but they invariably sound increasingly similar unless one cleanses one’s ears. If you want one superior example of his penchant for variation form I suggest you try the Op.15 variations on Bellini’s Il Pirata on CD3. It’s emphatic at the start, full of pizzicati incident, and full of a sturdy but elegant violin line: the noble melody is honoured by Lipiński too. The Op.4 variations are just for string quartet, shorn of the solo violin.
 
For variety you could do a lot worse than try the Polonaises, Op.9. They’re variously charming, pensive and cocky. The one work I do wish had been retained in its full garb is the Adagio elegico. I miss the Sturm und Drang orchestral element which contrasts so well with the pathos of the violin line. This is unquestionably one of Lipiński’s greatest works. By contrast the Op.33 Fantasia and variations on motifs from Stefani’s Supposed Miracle is very jolly.
 
In his notes Wróbel writes that he considers the two string trios to be the composer’s masterpieces. They’re certainly spacious and suavely constructed and full of detail - if also rather too long. The A major sports some fine flying obbligati from the first violin - unusually these are written for two violins and cello, sans viola. There also a slightly stylised military march and in the finale, rather unusually for the composer, hints of a rustic, folkloric drone and Highland fiddling (that’s the Tatras, not Scotland). The G minor, written around 1814-18, has a refined, mellifluous quality to which one can add concertante virtuosity for the first fiddle. Freshness and intensity mark out this work. It’s very capable indeed, though - even with a finale as ingenious as this stylised Bolero - perhaps less full of personality than the companion trio.
 
The performances, in two locations, are highly sympathetic and the supporting musicians play with care. The booklet notes are useful, but they’re very much about the man and less useful about the music.
 
After all this I have just three words; Konstanty Andrzej Kulka. What an indefatigable player. If you know him best as an elite interpreter of Szymanowski and Penderecki, and then add his pioneering recordings of Karłowicz and Młynarski (No.2) concertos, then you should know that even in his mid-sixties his playing is still at a terrific technical level. You’d hardly embark on a cycle of works by this composer if it weren’t. A modern-day Lipiński?
 
Jonathan Woolf 
 
Full track-listing 
All arrangements prepared by Andrzej Wróbel
 
CD 1 [59:56]
Rondo Alla Polacca in E Major, Op. 13 [14:45]; Variations on G. Rossini's La Cenerentola, Op. 11 [17:06]; Souvenir de la Mer Baltique, Divertissements, Op. 19 [14:19]; Variations on Rossini's Barber Of Seville: Cavatina, Op. 20 [13:28]
 
CD2 [61:43]
Rondo Alla Polacca in E Major, Op. 7 [17:15]; Brawurowe Wariacje [13:22]; Variations in G Minor, Op. 5 [14:51]; Fantasia and Variations on Motifs from G. Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots, Op. 26 [15:57]
 
CD 3 [63:05]
Rondo Alla Polacca in D Major, Op. 17 [12:30]; Variations on a Theme from V. Bellini's Il Pirata, Act II: Ma Non Fia Sempre Odiata, Op. 15 [14:57]; Fantasia and Variations on Motifs from V. Bellini's La Sonnambula, Op. 23 [13:45]; Variations in G Major, Op. 4 [13:25]; Fantasia and Variations on a Theme from G. Verdi's Ernani, Act II: Vieni Meco, Sol Di Rose, Op. 30 [8:04]  

CD 4
[60:42]
3 Polonaises, Op. 9: No. 1 in A Major [6:05]; 3 Polonaises, Op. 9: No. 2 in E Minor [7:17]; 3 Polonaises, Op. 9: No. 3 in D Major [6:22]; Rondo Koncertowe, Op. 18 [13:12]; Adagio Elegico, Op. 25 [10:22]; Fantasia and Variations on Motifs from J. Stefani's The Supposed Miracle, or Kracovians and Highlanders, Op. 33 [11:16]; Duo on a Theme from G. Meyerbeer's Il Crociato In Egitto, Op. 16 [5:42]
 
CD 5 [58:02]
Trio in A Major, Op. 12 [33:17];
Siciliano with Variations, Op. 2 [16:55]; Fantasia on Themes from Neapolitan Arias, Op. 31 [7:31]
 
CD 6 [59:06]
Trio in G Minor, Op. 8 [41:31]
Grand Fantasia on Motifs from V. Bellini's I Puritani, Op. 28 [17:22] 


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