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Wladyslaw ZELENSKI (1837-1921) Piano Quartet in C minor Op.61 [36:38]
Juliusz ZAREBSKI (1854-1885) Piano Quintet in G minor Op.34 [34:50]
Jonathan Plowright (piano); Szymanowski Quartet (Andrej Bielow (violin – quintet only), Grzegorz Kotów (violin), Vladimir Mykytka (viola), Marcin Sieniawski (cello))
rec. Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, UK, 4-6 December 2011.
HYPERION CDA67905 [71:30]

Experience Classicsonline


Though it may seem as if the 19th century did not yield many composers in Poland following the death of Chopin there were some who helped establish a compositional tradition. They included Moniuszko, Wieniawski, Moszkowski, Paderewski, Godowski, Karlowicz and Szymanowski. The fact that several of these are little known is a great shame but gradually the opportunity to discover the works of such composers is increasing. This disc is a case in point for it introduces us to two other virtual unknowns. While neither of these works here receive a world premiere recording they have not been available all that often so this disc is a welcome addition.
As the booklet notes explain, there were two options open to composers at the time these works were written: either the role of composer-virtuoso chosen by Zarebski or to simply try to earn a living as a composer and teacher which is what Zelenski did. Born in Kraków in 1837 Zelenski held a doctorate in philosophy from Prague University and, returning to Kraków via a teaching post in Warsaw, he became Director of the Conservatory there, a post he held for 40 years until his death in 1921. It is sad to read that much of his music has been lost and we must be thankful that this quartet survived. With its folk-like opening theme it is a wonderfully romantic work full of big-boned tunes with long flowing lines and very reminiscent of Brahms, nicely challenging our preconceptions about which composers wrote the best music. Every now and again we are liable to have to review and redefine our ideas in this respect, and rightly so. The second movement, Romanza, opens on the cello with a superbly wistful tune of great beauty and the piano has some truly gorgeous passages shared with the quartet making for a wonderful feeling of unity throughout its length. The third movement with a folksy mazurka-like feel to it is joyful and full of brio. It bubbles along merrily. The finale is marked Allegro appassionato and so it is with a driving forward thrust to it which, though it has its periods of lyrical reflection, is at heart an insistent force with the piano propelling the quartet headlong to its exciting finish.
It took 46 years for Zarebski’s Piano Quintet in G minor to be published and ever since it has been regarded as a masterpiece in Poland. It is not long before the listener can hear why. The work was dedicated to Liszt with whom Zarebski studied and was his favourite pupil. It is so sad to note that it was written in the last year of his short life as he died of TB at the age of 31. One is left to reflect on what other music he might have left us had he lived as long as Zelenski who was born 17 years before and who lived 36 years longer. As with Zelenski’s quartet Zarebski’s quintet is full of wonderfully lyrical and heartfelt passages of great beauty. As the excellent booklet notes point out the piano is cast as an integral part of the quintet rather than in a leading role. This makes for a really unifying purpose. Right from the first notes there is a feeling of sadness and anxiety that runs throughout the first movement with the cello given a particularly telling role in creating that mood. After an almost whispered beginning the second movement establishes another sad and deeply felt atmosphere which continues throughout. The third opens with an almost concerto-like sound for the piano and a bold theme that fairly dances along. This recurs at the end to dispel more reflective and moody music. The same theme appears to open the final movement establishing a link but it soon subsides into a gentle episode in which further references to previous movements are heard. This includes the quintet’s opening theme. All of this imparts a unifies nature to the entire work. The movement then continues, as the notes explain, with Zarebski meshing “old and new, combining the lyrical and the exuberant with symphonic panache and crowning the coda with a majestic statement of the quintet’s first theme”. It’s an extremely effective way with which to end.
The two works are beautifully played by the members of the Szymanowski Quartet, with pianist Jonathan Plowright giving a great performance. Hyperion’s sound is famous for its accuracy and fidelity. All in all this disc is an irresistible acquisition for anyone who loves 19th century chamber works to which discography this is a well deserved addition.
Steve Arloff

See also review by Rob Barnett

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