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Carl CZERNY (1791-1857)
The Art of Finger Dexterity, Op.740 (50 etudes; selections: Nos. 9, 41, 15, 24,46, 4 50, 2,3, 37, 8, 6, 12, 17, 23, 13, 45) [31:48]
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
'Per aspera ad astra' (15 virtuoso etudes) Op. 72, Nos 1 in E major [2:13] and 2 in G minor [1:59]
Grażyna BACEWICZ (1909-1969)
10 Concert Etudes (1956) [18:39]
Marian SAWA (1937-2005)
Four Etudes (1967) [6:07]
Marcin Tadeusz Łukaszewski (piano)
rec. December 1998 (Bacewicz), November 2000 (Czerny, Moszkowski) and January 2006 (Sawa), Polish Radio S-2 Studio, Warsaw

It’s interesting that these recordings, which I don’t believe have been published before, should have been taken up now by Acte Préalable. They were taped in Polish Radio’s Warsaw studios on three distinct sessions, the first in 1998, the second in 2000 and the most recent, the four Etudes by Marian Sawa, in 2006. Doubtless that last undertaking was a salute to a composer who had died the previous year. What unifies this very disparate collection is the nature of the Etude itself.

There are two main sequences; Czerny’s vast Die Kunst der Fingerfertigkeit and Grażyna Bacewicz’s 10 Concert Etudes. There are 50 etudes in Czerny’s Op.740, pedagogic but virtuosic, that explore a vast panoply of technical conundrums and make unremitting, but highly musical, demands on the player. Given that these pieces are still more performed in a teaching context the selection is felicitous given that it stresses the musical values of pieces even when they include figuration questions, hand rotation, stretches and note repetition for the left hand – and these are amongst some of the more obvious demands. In this half-hour-plus selection of a third of the Etudes – played in an ordering of Marcin Tadeusz Łukaszewski’s own devising - one encounters micro-dramas couched as technical flourishes, so that, for instance, the theatricality of No.15 and the stormy unrelenting G minor, No.50 are cut from a similar cloth. Not one piece breeches the two-and-a-half-minute mark and No.41 falls well short even of 60 seconds. So, compression is the essential element. So engagingly are the etudes played that one might want to hear the full set, which can be done on VAI 1241 played by Francesco Libetta, a performance that I’ve yet to hear.

Moritz Moszkowski is known for his character pieces and teaching works. The Op.72 set of 15 etudes has been mined for recital performance – Horowitz was not averse to playing one or two – and the two selected here make a well-balanced duo. Bacewicz wrote her Etudes in 1956. The toccata-like brittle semiquavers of the first of the ten announce a contrasting and characterful set. The third tests staccato, the fifth begins unexpectedly slowly with rich polyphony before getting agitated. The seventh is a jagged grotesque study. In fact, this all-embracing set makes real demands on both technique and character painting. Finally, Sawa’s 1967 Etudes are concert works with a somewhat neo-classical nature – each lasts ninety seconds but each distills its technical demands in a most appealing yet rigorous way.

The recording of the Czerny pieces is just a touch inflated and whilst not unattractive the sound does spread and can splinter a little in climaxes. It’s better in the companion works recorded at different times. The notes are helpful. Don’t think these are relentlessly virtuosic teaching studies devoid of intrinsic value: that’s far from the case.

Jonathan Woolf



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