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REVIEW
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Józef NOWAKOWSKI (1800-1865)
Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op.17 (1853) [36:48]
Józef KROGULSKI (1815-1842)
Piano Octet in D minor, Op.6 (1834) [24:34]
Nelson Goerner (piano); Lena Neudauer (violin); Erzhan Kulibaev (violin); Katarzyna Budnik-Gałązka (viola); Marcin Zdunik (cello); Sławomir Rozlach (double bass); Jan Krzeszowiec (flute); Radosław Soroka (clarinet)
rec. June 2014 Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw
FRYDERYK CHOPIN INSTITUTE NIFCCD105 [61:25]

As one of perhaps many people who try to fall asleep to the accompaniment of their bedside radio, I often wake in the morning and firstly scan the play-list from midnight. As a mild insomniac, it gives me some indication of how well, or patchily, I have slept, depending on what I can remember having heard through the night.

I can’t remember the exact time during the night, but somehow I caught the opening of the first work on this CD, and was absolutely enthralled, simply forcing myself to stay awake for the hour or so, though certainly little hardship at all, given the piece’s tunefulness, and immediate attraction. Rather like the guy who, in the TV advert of many years hence, was so impressed with the quality of a particular electric-razor, that he went out and bought the company, I contacted The Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Warsaw, and a CD was soon winging its way to me.

It’s actually part of the ‘Music of Chopin’s Time’ series, which, according to the Institute, aims to restore ‘beautiful works from Chopin’s era in interpretations by artists with an interest in rediscovering lost beauty’.

The exceedingly comprehensive sleeve-notes give sufficient background information on the composers, and it is also good to see that Marcin Gmys’s original Polish text has been translated into real English by John Comber. It’s also particularly helpful that these notes are separated into clear paragraphs, each one focussing on a specific movement, or work in general, rather than having to wade through often close print to find things, often exacerbated further by discussing works in non-track order on some CDs.

Nowakowski’ s E flat major Quintet of 1833, considered lost for decades until the parts were rediscovered in 2003, is actually his second, but his first has been completely lot without trace. The E flat Quintet has the same instrumentation as Hummel’s Op 87 Quintet (and in the same key), as well as Schubert’s Trout Quintet – where, instead of the more usual piano plus string quartet format, the double bass is favoured instead of one of the violins. This, of course, opens up a wider sound-palette, especially when the bass plays pizzicato. The opening Allegro vivace starts in typical business-like fashion, with little phrases and figurations along the way that might well have come straight from the pen of the young Chopin (1810-1849). Things proceed much according to plan until – just before the two-minute mark – Nowakowski introduces his lyrical second subject, and which the booklet describes as ‘one of the most beautiful in the whole of the 19th-century Polish chamber literature’. Usually this type of claim appears on CDs of neglected composers, whose works have been promoted by a devotee, and who then needs some apparent justification for unearthing that particular composer. However, in Nowakowski’s case – even mindful that Chopin’s chamber-music contribution was relatively small, with just three works for cello and piano, an early Piano Trio, and a number of Polish songs – there is, I feel, still significant justification for this, while acknowledging the subjective nature of such a statement. The ensuing Allegro vivace in C minor is a rapid one-in-a-bar Scherzo, and full of the fire that this key seems to produce from many a composer, Beethoven in particular. The gentle Trio, in A flat major, opens with another glorious melody given out by the piano, who has been fairly extensively-taxed in the Scherzo proper – apparently Nowakowski was an accomplished pianist, and Chopin took a keen interest in the composer’s music. The Scherzo reprises, where again the piano has much of the action, though certainly not exclusively so. The Romance that follows is the slow movement and again the composer returns to the Trio’s key of A flat – which, apparently, in the music of the time, was often associated with eroticism. The piano’s opening gambit strongly hints at the melody of Chopin’s famous E flat Nocturne, Op.9 No.2, but then very much goes its own charming way – another real gem of a movement. The rustic opening fifths of the sonata-rondo Finale lead into yet another superb movement, where Schubert probably springs to mind first, though the piano-writing equally is reminiscent of Chopin at times, too. Nowakowski shows himself the consummate master, totally able to integrate contrapuntal sections towards the close, or seamlessly to swap his strings and piano from solo to accompanying mode respectively, as the music rushes headlong towards its brilliant dénouement.

The partner-work is Krogulski’s four-movement Octet which was written in 1834, when its composer-pianist was a mere nineteen – he died even younger than Chopin, and also from tuberculosis. It would appear to be modelled on Hummel’s Septet in D minor, which both Chopin and Liszt numbered among the great masterpieces of the time, though with slightly different scoring, and, of course, one extra player. But the two works both share an extremely challenging piano part – and the same key nevertheless.

A mysterious short Adagio introduction precedes the cheery Allegro, which opens almost like Mozart, and in the tonic major (D). Much of the brilliant writing sees instruments paired in scales a third or sixth apart, to great effect. There is a very truncated development section of less than thirty bars in total, before a standard recapitulation follows. However, shortly before the end, Krogulski breaks off, while in full flow, for a short reprise of part of the opening introduction, though this is short-lived, and the tempo resumes as it reaches its joyful conclusion, with a short coda where the piano, in octaves, over sustained lines from some of the other instruments, and a pizzicato cello-part, produces a delightfully- compelling effect. The expansive Adagio slow movement opens briefly without the piano, but soon creates the aura of a John Field nocturne. Krogulski gives the cello a chance to shine, before the music turns somewhat more dramatic, with a section which, with its tremolando strings, doesn’t fail to recall the ‘recitative’ from the second movement of Chopin’s F minor Piano Concerto. The calm of the opening then returns. The third movement – a Minuetto, but marked Piů Presto, and more in the manner of a faster Scherzo – is modelled on its equivalent in Hummel’s Septet, and similarly presents a happy and contented Trio in the major key, framed by two mischievous outer sections in the minor. The Finale – again in the tonic major – is marked Ŕ la Bohemienne [sic], and soon launches into a section that, with its drone fifths, and piano – both hands playing two octaves apart – very much exudes a rural, gypsy-like polka-feel, with the piano kept exceedingly busy throughout. But again, as before, Krogulski is not averse to bringing matters to a temporary halt as happens here in the development section, where the strong rise and fall of the chromatic scales suggest, perhaps a passing stormy wind, over which the opening theme picks up again, and the movement races once more to an impressively-built-up climax and final close.

There is such youthful spontaneity in the outstanding playing heard here, especially from Argentinian pianist Nelson Goerner, and the recording and overall presentation are equally as superb.

Nowakowski and Krogulski are barely-known, even in their native Poland, but, on the evidence of the two works recorded here, they deserve far greater recognition in the field of chamber-music, not only in their native land, but internationally.

This CD must rank as probably the most enjoyable chamber-music offering, as well as the most fascinating and entertaining find I have come across, for some considerable time.

Philip R Buttall

 




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