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Symphonies 1, 2, 3

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David POPPER (1843-1913)
Hungarian Rhapsody Op.68 (1894) [8:15]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Cello Sonata Op.119 (1950) [26:30]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Consolations; 6 pensées poetiques, S.172 (1850) (arr. Jules de Swert, 1873) [15:40]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Introduction and Polonaise brillante Op.3 (1830) [9:51]
Maciej Kułakowski (cello)
Dominika Glapiak (piano)
rec. September 2011, Gdańsk Music Academy
DUX 0771 [60:19]

One of the most startling things about this very mature programme is that the cellist Maciej Kułakowski was only fifteen years old when it was recorded. His sonata partner Dominika Glapiak is somewhat older but like the cellist was born in Gdańsk where they both attended the city’s music school. It’s by no means wholly uncommon to find a cellist so young recording but it is unusual, at least in my experience, to hear him presenting so big a work as Prokofiev’s Op.119 masterpiece. Clearly he doesn’t lack confidence, but I wonder if Dux does a little backpedalling in presenting the pianist’s name above that of the cellist in its track listing details. Surely the string player, whatever his age, should take precedence.
The duo tops and tails the recital with two well established virtuoso pieces. The first is Popper’s Hungarian Rhapsody which is heard in a version for cello and orchestra as often as the cello and piano. It’s a confident display even though some of the slides sound a little overdone, and there is some rhythmic imprecision. Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise brillante Op.3 is a youthful work, though it’s still salutary to be reminded that the composer, whilst only 20 when he wrote it, was still five years older than the cellist who plays it here. It holds the promise of good things even though the tempo is, understandably, slightly stately and the virtuosic roulades are not yet second nature.
Prokofiev’s sonata can be a tough nut to crack. The first movement needs careful watching, lest its relative length unbalance the remaining two movements. It starts warmly in this performance but things do slacken a bit, not least the passage for pizzicato underpinned by percussive piano support, which can be made to sound much more martial and unsettling. In the slow movement there could be more tone colours in legato passages and more of the wintry characterisation that’s inherent in this ambiguous music. The finale is rather stable and vertical, whereas more elastic phrasing would pay dividends. But clearly, Kułakowski has a lot of talent, and to be essaying this sonata with such confidence at 15 is certainly saying something. The Liszt Consolations are heard in the arrangement for cello and piano made by Jules de Swert in 1873. They give opportunities for deft character building and the rapport between cellist and piano works especially well here.
It’s not every 15 year old cellist who gets to record in this way, and I should think we will be hearing more from Maciej Kułakowski in the fullness of time.
Jonathan Woolf