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Antoni KĄTSKI (1817-1899)
Piano Works - Volume 1
Trois Méditations op. 42
Une Polonaise et Six Mazurkas op. 44
Esquisse mélodique sur la romance Rappele-toi op. 99
Ne m'oubliez pas - romance sans paroles op. 152
La Sensitive - Reverie pour piano op. 246
Ah! ch'io t'amo - romance sans paroles WoO
La Brisa de la tarde - melodia WoO
Dobrzański Sławomir (piano)
rec. 14-16 November 2016, Artur Malawski Philharmonic Hall, Rzeszow, Poland. DDD

In the most productive of ways Acte Préalable specialise in opening up the acreage of unknown Polish music. Their inclinations are to be welcomed and at least we can now make up our own minds in appraising so many world premiere recordings. Recently they have issued CDs of the third volume of their Noskowski piano series, Ignacy Krzyzanowsk's piano music, the chamber music of Raul Koczalski and two Tivadar (aka Theodore) Szanto volumes. Szanto was also responsible for an edition of the Delius Piano Concerto.

Kątski is forgotten today but he was something of a world travelling wunderkind. A native of Krakow he studied in Warsaw and with John Field in Moscow. He also spent time as a student of Thalberg in Vienna. There is some vague talk of his having been a pupil of Beethoven at the tender age of ten.

Kątski worked with Chopin who, according to the liner notes, held him at arms length. Kątski is reputed to have had a phenomenal memory - whole scores committed to memory at very brief acquaintance. This faculty was coupled with an alleged tendency to plagiarise, making a fatally imposing combination. In the mid-1800s he was active among the crowned great and good in Spain and Portugal. From 1867 he was a teacher in London where he put down roots for 16 years. Later he settled in Buffalo NY and in his venerable years went on world tours including Japan, China, Thailand, Macau and the Philippines.

There are a couple of hundred pieces. The seven works presented here have been selected on the basis of musicality rather than virtuoso flash although there is plenty of that too. Referring to Kątski as a natural composer for the piano, the author of the notes concedes that he preferred to work on material composed by others rather than invented by himself.

The large-scale Trois Méditations are exercises - and highly skilled ones - in subdued yet pearlescent sentimentality. They are catchy and sound rather like Chopin or Field. Kątski can here be equated with Arensky. As for Une Polonaise et Six Mazurkas the composer gives a little more rein to vitality but dignified and lilting nationalist dances are the order of his day. He chooses to end a fairly energetic set with a calming essay in aristocratic moonlight. The Esquisse Melodique sur la romance Rappele-toi is at first quite exuberant but soon returns to lachrymose gentility. Ne m'oubliez pas - romance sans paroles and Ah! ch'io t'amo - romance sans paroles which follows continue the same bel canto stream: facile but effective. La Sensitive - Reverie is again aristocratic but reflective and slow of pulse. The disc ends with La Brisa de la Tarde which trades a polished line in prettiness.

Acte Préalable here open another chapter (this is vol. 1) in Poland's musical annals. Not the most striking or original but still with the capacity to charm.

Rob Barnett



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