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Raul KOCZALSKI (1885-1948) Chamber Works Volume 1
Impressions de Pologne, op. 86 (1915) [20:37]
Romance, op. 142 (1942) [4:49]
Ballade in G minor, op. 87 (1915) [7:30]
Sonate for Violin and Piano No. 1 in E minor, Op. 74 (1915) [25:40]
Monika Dondalska (violin)
Krzysztof Figiel (piano)
rec. Szczecin, Poland, December 2016 ACTE PRÉALABLE AP0383 [58:41]
I dare say that the music of Raul Koczalski will be new to just about everyone who reads this review, at least it was certainly new to me. I do however have a few other Acte Préalable discs so I sort of knew what I was to expect, and I was not disappointed.
Here was a composer born in Warsaw when it was still under Russian control, and who therefore held a Russian passport, something that would see him interned in Germany during the First World War. He was a child prodigy who gave his first public performance as a pianist at the age of four; this led to lessons with Anton Rubinstein. By the age of six he had some 40 compositions to his name, and by nine he was giving concerts in the major cities throughout Europe which led to him being described as the “Polish Mozart”. At the age of eighteen he took a break from performing to concentrate on composing, returning to the concert hall a few years later to great acclaim, when he was regarded as the greatest interpreter of Chopin of his generation. As a composer, Koczalski composed in most genres, gaining great success for his opera Raymond of 1902, a work that was performed 147 times in the first half of the twentieth century. Sadly most of Koczalski’s compositions remain unpublished and this lead to his music being almost completely forgotten after his death in November 1948.
When it comes to his music, Koczalski was a man who believed that composing had reached its zenith during the romantic movement of the late nineteenth century, with this being clearly borne out by the works presented on this disc. They are richly melodic and romantic in nature, indeed the first time I listened to this music I was reminded of Alexander Borodin, no mean comparison, as both sought to further nationalistic movement in their respective homelands, with Koczalski sort of bridging the gap in Polish music between Chopin and Szymanowski.
The majority of the music presented on this disc was composed during his internment in Germany in 1915, with the wonderful E minor Violin Sonata being the earliest, this is a beautiful work, the first of four sonatas, and leads me to anticipate the following releases in this series. It is a characterful work which I think reflects Koczalski’s longing for his home. This longing is even more prevalent in his Impressions de Pologne, here we have a suite of five movements that offer the listener stylised Polish dance music which left me wishing for more. The G minor Ballade is the final work from 1915 and could be said to take its lead from Chopin in that here we have Koczalski at his most poetic with the violin acting as a voice in this poem without words. The opus 142 Romance, was composed in 1942, when Koczalski once again found himself interned, in a sort of house arrest, in Germany, it is once again possesses a romantic character and charm, with its distinctly Polish violin sound playing over some innovative piano writing. This is wonderful music, music for anyone who loves the romantic idiom. The term ‘Unjustly Neglected Composer’ is bandied around all too often these days, but in this case I believe it justified.
The playing of Monika Dondalska and Krzysztof Figiel is excellent throughout and I hope they get to perform the remaining violin sonatas as this series progresses. The recorded sound is very good, as are the notes by Maryla Renat, although on occasion they read as if they have been put through Google Translate.