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Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Polonaise de concert in D, Op. 4 [5:53]
Fantaisie brillante sur “Faust” Gounod, Op. 20 [17:44]
Violin Concerto No.2 in D minor, Op. 22 [24:02]
Anna Maria Staskiewicz (violin)
Henryk Wieniawski Lublin Philharmonic Orchestra/Piotr Wijatkowski
rec. 2010, Lublin Philharmonic Concert Hall, Lublin, Poland DUX 0797 [47:39]
This is a terrific, very beautifully played new album of Henryk Wieniawski’s violin music. The Concerto No. 2 is a neglected masterpiece; performers like Heifetz recorded it with aplomb, but the work has now fallen out of the standard repertoire. I think that is a mistake, and clearly violinist Anna Maria Staskiewicz agrees, because she gives as impassioned and romantic a performance as anybody ever has in stereo sound.
This CD is also a tourist advertisement for the city of Lublin, Poland. The city paid for the recording, which features the hometown orchestra and music by a composer who was born there. Color photographs of the old town’s beautiful skyline stud the booklet, the text of which is completely devoted to Lublin’s history and tourist attractions. Completely: there is even a point-by-point description of every historic landmark, so you can carry the CD booklet around Lublin and give yourself a walking tour. (Perhaps most intriguing: an underground passageway which “leads through 14 mysterious chambers.”)
I am not visiting Lublin anytime soon, but I will be prizing this CD, since it features such glittering performances of romantic violin showpieces. The Polonaise de concert is a rousing six-minute piece with a catchy tune, and it would satisfy any concert audience as an encore. The Faust fantasy has Staskiewicz demonstrating her emotional range, as she sings like an opera star through tender arias, pulls off chirpy harmonics in a late scherzo, and conjures up Mephistophelian danger.
This brings us to the Violin Concerto No. 2. Honestly, I prefer this piece to any of the concertos by Max Bruch, and rate it nearly as highly as the concertos by Mendelssohn or Tchaikovsky. It’s one of my favorites, in other words. And this might be the best recording since Gil Shaham did the piece with the LSO on Deutsche Grammophon. Anna Maria Staskiewicz is a marvelous soloist, who catches the work’s romantic, effusive energy. She tosses in portamenti, effortless double-stops, and an all-important ability to deliver a great melody with passion. Staskiewicz (born in 1983) is not well-known in the west, but she has performed with nearly every Polish orchestra and conductor. The conductor list in her biography is alphabetical, so, amusingly, you have to read to the end to find her most prestigious collaborations (Maxim Vengerov and Antoni Wit).
I’m impressed by Lublin’s Henryk Wieniawski Philharmonic, too. Maybe they are at their best playing the music of their namesake, or maybe they are always a very capable orchestra which provides sympathetic support to performers. They are beyond reproach here, with a high level of commitment and emotional intensity in music that you don’t rehearse every year. Credit goes to conductor Piotr Wijatkowski, too, as well as the engineers, who spotlight the solo violinist but not anymore than, say, Decca or DG do.
There’s only one downside to this disc, and it’s a big one: the playing time. This is a common problem with Wieniawski CDs. Vadim Brodsky, on a previous Dux album conducted by Antoni Wit, offers only the two violin concertos (together about 52 minutes). Maybe the problem is that Wieniawski’s complete concertante pieces total around 90 minutes, too much for one CD but not nearly enough for two. Staskiewicz could have added the First Concerto to this disc, however, with room to spare.
So my top recommendation for a Wieniawski concerto album is Gil Shaham with the LSO and Lawrence Foster, another powerhouse performance in the old-fashioned “romantic” style. That comes with a very fun bonus in Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. I haven’t heard Joshua Bell’s recording of the Second Concerto, but Bell would have to be at his best to top Staskiewicz. If this disc intrigues you, and the short playing time is acceptable, you can definitely buy with enthusiasm. That goes double if you are visiting Lublin soon and need a tourism brochure.