These two CDs, more or less co-released by the Polish independent Acte Préalable, feature the music of Franciszek Brzezinski, who was actually a lawyer by profession and better known as a music writer than composer. His body of work is therefore small: whilst one of the two discs is billed as Brzezinski's 'complete [solo] piano works', that and the violin sonata appear to amount to the totality of Brzezinski's extant works. A purported piano concerto and Polonaise-Ballade did not surface in the label's research for these recordings.
Though Brzezinski was in one sense an 'amateur', he was not untrained or self-taught, having studied composition with Max Reger and piano with Jan Kleczynski (1837-95) - the latter not to be confused with composer-violinist Jan Baptysta Kleczynski, an exact contemporary of Mozart, and the subject of another recent and decent double release by Acte Préalable (AP0264, AP0265). By way of curious footnote, Acte Préalable owner Jan Jarnicki comments in his foreword to AP0267 that "bad luck would have it that the recording time exceeded the limit of one disc by several minutes, while the possibility of making two forty-minute-long CDs was out of the question." This led to the happy inclusion of Józef Szulc's sonata, yet the two Kleczynski discs mentioned above have exactly the same running time as the present pair would have done without the Szulc.
Brzezinski's straightforward, sub-three-minute Toccata does not really merit its owns opus number, and the Waltz, though prettily retrospective, is salon music. The remaining piano works, however, are more substantial and deserving of recognition. The Triptique is a progressive trio of preludes and fugues, each with their own distinctive character, in which Brzezinski pays homage to Johann Sebastian Bach. With the Tema con Variazioni and Suite Polonaise Brzezinski confirms the appeal to him of conservative forms, but that is not to say he lacks imagination, even when, as in the Variations, his purpose seems as pedagogic as expressive. Admirers of the slightly younger Sergei Bortkiewicz will recognise a kindred spirit: Brzezinski has a similar feel for lyrical nostalgia, lightly peppered with native rhythms and colours. For those unfamiliar with Bortkiewicz, crossing Chopin with Rachmaninov will give a similar idea, especially as far as the very attractive Polish Suite is concerned.
Nevertheless, Brzezinski's best work is undoubtedly his violin sonata - a work of searing expressiveness and emotional turbulence, especially in the central adagio which, towards the end, seems to paraphrase the lovely cantilena of Max Bruch's Adagio Appassionato op.57.
The sonata by Brzezinski's contemporary and friend Józef Szulc (the Polish spelling of the German name 'Schultz') is his only known work in this or any genre. According to the booklet notes, it "lies on the border of light music and classical" (sic), but a rather sniffy view like this does not stand up well to scrutiny, even if the second half of the work does not quite replicate the poetic heights of the first. A piano pupil of Paderewski and Moszkowski, not to mention a composition student of Noskowski and Massenet, Szulc was, despite his neglect, well trained. Indeed, the passion and imagination, breadth and depth of the sonata betoken a musical mind of definite originality - one that is moreover simply too tunefully approachable for some academics who write liner-notes.
Both sonatas call for a violinist who has sensitivity and technical prowess in equal measure, and Irena Kalinowska-Grohs fits the bill nicely. Barbara Pakura has a little less work to do in the Szulc, but her delivery of the piano contribution to the two sonatas seems to feed off Kalinowska-Grohs, although in the solo piano recital she does seem a little more reticent.
Audio quality is very good, although the piano Waltz and the Szulc sonata, recorded at a different venue, sound a little recessed - albeit the sonata less conspicuously so. By way of compensation, the recording of Brzezinski's sonata is especially vivid. The booklets provide substantial notes on the works, in both cases by Maryla Renat. The English translations from the Polish are not perfect - what to make of the "'mutual inter-genre penetration' phenomenon" Szulc's sonata is said to "validate"'? - but pretty good overall. Prefaces and biographies share material across both albums where appropriate, but a varied selection of black-and-white photos add to the differences and interest.
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk