Les Explorateurs is a chamber ensemble based around pianist Joanna Ławrynowicz, with guest musicians coming in according to the requirements of works at hand. Ławrynowicz has recorded over thirty CDs for Acte Préalable (AP) spanning more than a decade, and was apparently the first Pole to record the complete works of Chopin - also for AP. For these two new releases she and cellist Łukasz Tudzierz combine in genial, committed performances to reveal to the world another batch of forgotten gems from seriously neglected composers. The Dobrzyński disc in particular is outstanding in every respect - perhaps AP's finest to date.
The Żeleński recording is the fourth and last volume in AP's revelatory series dedicated to his complete chamber music for strings (see also AP0236, 0237, 0239). In his preface to both discs, label boss Jan Jarnicki asserts that both Władysław Żeleński and Ignacy Dobrzyński have been wrongly neglected - in the latter's case in no uncertain terms. Maryla Renat's detailed, well written booklet notes for both discs arrive at the same conclusion: Żeleński, for instance, emerges from these recordings "a true master", his works "truly excellent concert pieces". Both commentators are spot-on, in fact - this is music that deserves not just an audience, but a wide
The two Piano Trios are the crown jewels, but there is plenty to be said for the shorter works that accompany them. Dobrzyński's Piano Trio is very Schubertesque in places, the final especially. It is a huge work, but holds the listener's interest throughout. The playing of Ławrynowicz, Tudzierz and violinist Anna Orlik is both sympathetic and characterful, making a terrific case for a terrific work. Grzegorz Stec's colourful oboe adds a dash of something different in Souvenir of Dresden, a work which recalls good times past in loving and indeed moving tones. Les Larmes too is a delightful little piece, unpretentious, slightly melancholic. Finally, the Introduction and Variations is like an early piece by Henryk Wieniawski - not a great work as such, but cheery entertainment for both listeners and performers. Dobrzyński's original, incidentally, was for flute and piano - the notes do not say whose arrangement this is.
Władysław Żeleński is one of 19th-century Poland's most important opera composers, but as a younger man he concentrated on instrumental works. Much of his music has sadly been lost and what remains has proved difficult to parse in chronological terms, with lost dates, misleading opus numbers, misattributions and so on. One corollary of this is that, in contradistinction to the Dobrzyński disc, there are no work dates given for Żeleński.
The four works heard here are all clearly influenced by Mendelssohn, sharing the same classical elegance and gentle lyrical beauty, even if not quite reaching the same acme of genius. The Trio, Lyrical Waltz and Romance all warrant a firm place in the repertoire - these are works that etch themselves on first hearing into the memory. Ławrynowicz and Tudzierz, joined now by violinist Lucyna Fiedukiewicz, once again play with clarity and sensitivity. It is Fiedukiewicz who is the star of the show here, thoughtful and expressive throughout, especially in the delectable Romance and Lyrical Waltz.
Sound quality is very good on both CDs - in fact, the Dobrzyński is quite possibly AP's best ever. The recording dates given on the back cover of AP0278 do not concord with those given inside the booklet. As the former are identical to those on AP0277, the latter are more likely correct, and are thus given above - with the additional caveat that even here the dates indicate that the Introduction and Variations was recorded over two sessions four months apart.
Though the Żeleński disc is shorter than might be wished, the Dobrzyński more than makes up for it. Volume 2 of the latter is due for release at the time of writing (AP0279, details are in the booklet) - this packs in still more minutes. As already mentioned, the accompanying Polish-English notes are valuable, the translation bearing just a mild foreign accent. Performer biographies are effusive: Ławrynowicz, for example, is "considered one of the greatest Polish pianists". Extended biographies of the painters of the fine cover art also feature. Proprietor Jarnicki takes a hands-on approach to promotion with two photos of himself in each booklet. Certainly as far as these two recordings are concerned, he would be well within his rights to allow himself a smile of satisfaction.
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