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Choralis Passeris
Mieczysław KARŁOWICZ (1873-1909)

Serenade (1896) for cello and string quintet (arr. Andrzej Wróbel) [5:33]
Witold MALISZEWSKI (1873-1939)
Suite Op.20 (ca. 1910) for cello and string quartet (arr. Andrzej Wróbel) [19:14]
Antoni STOLPE (1851-1872)
Dramatic scene (1868) for cello and string quintet [13:52]
Krzysztof HERDZIN (b. 1970)
Choralis Passeris (2014) for cello and string quintet [13:16]
Piotr WRÓBEL (b. 1977)
Moliendo cafe, A Venezuelan Fantasy (2007) for cello and amp; string quintet [17:31]
Anna Wróbel (cello)
Camerata Vistula
rec. 2014, Witold Lutosławski Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw
DUX 1220 [69:27]

While the cello or its related variants had a long history in Germany and other places in Europe, it was apparently not until the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries that the instrument really made its mark in Poland. Anna Wróbel points to Antoni Stolpe's Dramatic Scene as the only piece from that period in this programme actually scored for cello and string quartet. The other 'early' works have been given very elegant and effective arrangements, and there are also two new works especially written for Anna Wróbel.

Mieczysław Karłowicz's Serenade was written for his cellist friend Zygmunt Burkiewicz as a piece with piano accompaniment, and the booklet notes tell us more about the work's genesis and the way it survived as a copy of the original manuscript. Wróbel describes it as "a kind of appetizer" and in its charmingly light and mildly melodramatic salon character it works very well. Witold Maliszewski's Suite Op. 20 is also garlanded with historical detail, and at one point it won the Adam de Smit Competition in Paris in 1923. This is another work in a distinctly Romantic style, beautifully crafted but full of a popular schmalz that has nothing to do with the better known avant-garde streams of the time. The four movements all have a rather introverted, gentle atmosphere, and Wróbel wonders how it might have been made more satisfying with some kind of virtuoso finale. As it is the melodic delights of each of the four movements are very entertaining indeed. The piece is rounded off with a playful Valse and we can take our leave dancing away into the night. (Editor's Note: Maliszewski is promising. I had never heard anything by him until BBC Radio 3's Through the Night programme - well worth checking - presented his catchy late-romantic Slav-accented First Symphony (1903). Fittingly enough Glazunov is the dedicatee. There are five Maliszewski symphonies (1903-35?). I hope we will hear more of them).

Antoni Stolpe's Dramatic Scene is in a different order of expressive content. This is a piece in which our imaginations are allowed to roam free over whatever programmatic tale we might conjure for ourselves. To paraphrase a contemporary report of the work's premiere, after a dark introduction the cello has an extended solo recitative that develops into a cantilena accompanied by the strings. A strong narrative style is expected from the title and is delivered in this fine piece, which remained forgotten until brought to light by Andrzej Wróbel in 2003. Its romantic idiom presents no problems for today's listeners, but it would have been fascinating to know what the composer actually had in mind as a story behind his richly expressive drama.

The remaining two works are by contemporary composers writing for Anna Wróbel. Krzysztof Herdzin's Choralis Passeris is in its title a pun on the cellist's name in its original Polish title, Wróblowy Choral. The piece is no joke however, as it explores "the contemplative character of sacred music". The music is largely slow and introspective, with some beautiful sonorities and rich harmonic touches and plenty of 'added notes' creating colour in the chorale of the string quintet. Melodic lines have their origins in liturgical vocal style, though this can creep into evangelical effusiveness as easily as it explores Medieval monody. Piotr Wróbel, Anna's brother, has a background in jazz, but his Moliendo café takes on Venezuelan melodies "which are subjected to harmonic-timbral development", the popular melody of the title being worked into the finale. After an intense opening there are some more rhythmic movements, with the double bass 'walking' beneath skipping strings and the at times surprising effects from the soloist. Guitar-like strumming introduces a section in which the rest of the ensemble clap a rhythmic accompaniment. It's filled with fun-filled moments and witty inflections as well as characterful sections rich in emotional expression.

Very nicely recorded and fulsomely documented, this is a recording that offers plenty for cello fans, connoisseurs of unusual and obscure late 19th and early 20th century repertoire and some approachable and attractively portable new pieces for strings and soloist.

Dominy Clements


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