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Józef SZULC (1875-1956)
Sonata in A minor, for violin and piano, op.61 (c.1908) [35:30]
Berceuse, Op.4 (1901) [5:24]
Mélodie orientale (1911) [5:49]
Sérénade (1925) [2:27]
Jarosław Pietrzak (violin)
Julita Przybylska-Nowak (piano)
rec. March and September (Berceuse) 2014, Concert Hall of the Karol Lipiński Music Academy, Wrocław
DUX 0951 [49:06]

Józef Zygmunt Szulc - also known by the forename Joseph when living in Berlin, Paris and Brussels - came from a musical family, his father Henryk being a long-standing member of the Warsaw Grand Theatre Orchestra. Henryk was also a conductor and composer and instilled high musical standards into his three sons, one becoming a horn player in the Palestine Symphony Orchestra (now Israel Philharmonic) in 1936. Józef studied with Noskowski, taking piano studies with Moszkowski in Berlin, before wandering to Paris where he studied composition with Massenet. This eclectic background was fuelled by further piano studies with Paderewski. A career as a virtuoso was clearly in preparation but operatic conducting claimed him - his wife was Suzy Delsart, star of the Monnaie - and he produced a stream of operas and operettas. He continued to win plaudits, his last success being Pantoufle in 1945. He died in his adopted city of Paris in 1956.

Szulc was mostly just a name to me though I'd heard his song Clair de lune, because Melba and Maggie Teyte both recorded it, as well as Hantise d'amour because it was in Caruso's repertoire and he recorded it too. I knew he'd written a Violin Sonata but this was my first hearing. It was written around 1908 and has a feeling of unfettered warmth that proves very appealing on repeated listening. It's more cosmopolitan than explicitly Polish, at least in its early stages; indeed it reflects his travels across Europe, and seems to have been composed in Brussels. There's a lot of detailed passagework in a first movement that dissolves into rarefied silence at the end and is followed by a songful Andante sostenuto that proves richly vocalised. There's a canny distribution of material between violin and piano, with ardent thematic material repeating and circling. The most interesting thing is the sonata gets more Polish the longer it goes on. The scherzo has elements of folkloric dance and there is more than a hint of the mazurek in the finale. These last two movements bear the dance imperatives of the work and tend somewhat - however ingeniously - to overbalance the work rather than allowing the nationalistic material to run throughout. However it's a well-written and enjoyable sonata, played with characterful verve by Jarosław Pietrzak and Julita Przybylska-Nowak.

The three morceaux come from somewhat different stages of musical development - 1901, 1911 and 1925. The Berceuse is a salon charmer of succulent lyricism, whilst the Mélodie orientale cleaves close to generic models: Pietrzak's playing in the higher positions is fine. Finally Sérénade is a deft little bonbon, not unlike some of d'Ambrosio's sweetmeats of the time.

With decent booklet notes and a sympathetic recording this offers a particular slant on a Polish wanderer who has largely slipped from musical view. There is a competitor for the sonata in the shape of Acte Préalable AP0271, though I've not heard it. The current duo's performance however is thoroughly commendable.

Jonathan Woolf


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