Aleksander MICHAŁOWSKI (1851-1938)
Piano Works - Volume 1
Berceuse, op. 1 [6:15]
Étude d'après l'Impromptu op. 29 de F.Chopin, op. 2 [3:56]
Feuille d'album, op. 3 [2:07]
Gavotte, op. 4 [4:14]
Mazurka No.1, op. 5 in F sharp minor [4:20]
Mazurka No.2, op. 6 in C sharp minor [2:16]
Mazurka No.3, op. 7 in F minor [4:51]
Menuet, op. 8 [5:29]
Prélude, op. 9 [3:41]
Romance, op. 10 [4:20]
Valse triste, op. 11 [3:32]
Mélodie, op. 12 [4:01]
Valse brillante, op. 13 [5:31]
Prélude, op. 14 in A minor [1:52]
Artur Cimirro (piano)
rec. May 2016, Opus Dissonus Studios

Though he studied composition with Carl Reinecke it was his studies with Moscheles and Theodor Coccius – and later Carl Tausig in Berlin - that equipped Aleksander Michałowski for his career as a virtuoso, and subsequently teacher of the piano. Well-received tours led to an eminent teaching practice: the names of his successful students would probably require a page of foolscap but the most famous were Landowska, Sofronitsky, Neuhaus, Levitzki, Władysłav Szpilman and Alexander Zak.

His compositions numbered 36 works with opus numbers, 11 without opus, and some miscellaneous editions and arrangements: a select corpus. This first volume traces the first 14 pieces, numbering opp. 1-14. Though it’s very difficult to date them with any accuracy it seems that some come from the 1870s and were only edited around 1900. It’s known, for example, that he played his own Étude d'après l'Impromptu op. 29 de F.Chopin, op. 2 to Liszt in 1874.

All are brief, genre pieces. The Op.2 has plenty of impressive virtuoso effects – Michałowski was a notable performer of his compatriot Chopin’s music - in what is, in effect, a free improvisation. Others are more wistful – such as the Feuille d’album – or mine that popular genre of cod-baroquerie. Even so he is careful to introduce contrast, such as in the Gavotte, where the B section is positively dainty. The three Mazurkas themselves offer a pleasing contrast and because they are consecutive opus numbers they are performed thus – no opus mixing and matching in this chronology-conscious programming. These three Mazurkas are perhaps the most characteristically Polish and personalised of the works in this first volume of the complete piano music – I assume there is one more disc to come. The first is fleet and confident, the second melancholy, and the third genial.

Clearly Chopin’s influence ran deep but explicitly Slavic influence is also audible and in the case of the Prélude, Op.9, Russian music looms large. It’s not surprising that there should be some salonesque moments – the Valse triste is decidedly light in this respect - but he was also a quietly impressive melodist. I appreciate pianist Artur Cimirro’s proselytizing in these premiere recordings but whilst I too very much like the Mélodie, Op.12 I don’t quite share his view that it’s “one of the most beautiful melodies written under this title”. It is charming, however and its yearning lyricism runs through some of the other pieces. The Valse brillante illustrates the virtuoso Polish element in his make-up and it’s unsurprising to read it was dedicated to his fellow virtuoso and composer Moritz Moszkowski. The reverential, monastic, and chordal Prélude in A minor ends this disc in a moment of unexpected piety.

Cimirro presents this largely unpretentious music in a good light, aided by a fine recording. I wish the gaps between pieces had been slightly longer but that’s not going to detract from the enterprise.

Jonathan Woolf

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