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Witold MALISZEWSKI (1873-1939)
String Quartet no. 1 in F major op. 2 [32:32]
String Quartet no. 3 in E flat major op. 15 [33:11]
Melodia [2:32]
Four Strings Quartet, Artur Cimirro (piano)
rec. Chorzow, Skola Muzycana, ul Dabrowskigo 43, December 2015 (Quartet no.1); Katowice, NOSPR, sala kameraina, October 2016 (Quartet no.3); Opus Dissonus Studios, January 2017 (Melodia)
ACTE PRELABLE AP0376 [68:19]

I’d not previously heard of the composer Maliszewski whose first and third string quartets are presented here, but a few minutes investigation of the notes and also on the internet provided me with a little background information about this neglected figure.

One thing that strikes me about this recording is the differences between the two works on the disc. The first is a very confident, assured little work which strictly adheres to standard structures; however, the latter one consists of a huge first movement with an introduction, a theme and then eight variations. The remaining two movements are more traditional.

As I said, the first quartet, published as Op.2, is arranged in the standard format. The first movement begins confidently with a nice memorable tune on the cello. This is further developed and the violins and viola join in leading to a cheerful jaunty section which continues to be developed before leading into a more aggressive part around four and a half minutes in. There is then a recap of the initial tune before the music leads into another section very similar to the first. Towards the end of the recapitulation, there is further development before leading to the conclusion of the movement, which is slightly cheeky sounding. There then follows a similarly happy sounding scherzo which sets off at a rapid pace and some interesting passagework for the violins, sounding slightly Mozartian. The main tune is memorable and is nicely developed as the movement continues. The central Trio section sounds like a Lšndler, a rustic dance. This continues for a couple of minutes before returning to the music found at the start of the movement. It’s very well composed, written and played. I like the lilting violin work in this movement which ends quietly. Next is a nice Andante non troppo movement. There is a definite change of pace and mood here – initially, the atmosphere is one of resignation, yearning and sadness. However at about 1’20’’, the mood changes to one of cheeriness again before a very agitated section. This further evolves and goes through various stages of increasing anxiety before settling back to a yearning theme and then we are back to happy music, as before, which leads to the completion the movement. The Finale is very long in comparison to the remainder of the work and bounds off at a rate of knots. There is an insistent theme which recurs throughout the first part and sticks in the mind. There is some lovely violin playing at around two minutes with some soaring music, high up in the register. There are moments of sadness here as well as more merry sections but all is held together well. The end section is predominantly in the major key, bouncy, fun and cheerful and the quartet ends with a rousing passage. Despite the length of this movement, it is well balanced and works as a finale. The structure of the whole quartet, despite being “traditional” in form, is complex and there is a lot of cross linking of themes and interesting developments. It’s a really interesting work which repays frequent listening.

The second quartet was published in 1914 and on this disc is split into three movements although the notes hint that it may actually be written as one solid movement with three subsections. The first movement is a theme and variations and starts in a tortured way before settling into some complex violin passages which serve as a cadenza before the main theme itself starts. There is some surprisingly dissonant music here and some very interesting harmonies. Once the main theme starts, the music settles down to a more tonal sounding tune, around three minutes in. I particularly like variation 2 at around 5’30’’which includes some lovely pizzicato writing for the violins in a cheerful bouncy section. The following variation, led by the cello is more impassioned and melancholy. The 4th variation is more serious in tone and features some interesting “grinding” accompaniment from the cello which later moves up into the violins. These variations follow a rough pattern of light hearted alternating music with more soul searching treatments of the theme. There is so much interesting music in this movement and this certainly repays repeated listening and is worth getting to know. The following movement is an Andante tranquillo and starts genially, before becoming more energetic and fun sounding. There is some lovely writing for all the strings here and the whole thing is moulded into a really impressive little movement, full of contrast and interest. The ending is particularly cheerful! The finale is an agitated piece, much longer than the preceding Andante and again is interesting and complex. There is a noticeable build up to a particularly climatic section at around three minutes; however, thereafter, things calm down a little. There is then a development of this first section before another agitated passage around seven minutes before we reach increasingly choppy waters for the last few pages of the work. There is a lot of passagework here where all for instrumentalists are playing in concert and it all works rather well. After the “choppy” music which seemed to be heading for some sort of crescendo virtuoso ending, the last minute of the piece is unexpectedly quiet and rather moving, to my ears it sounds like a wind-up toy running down!

The final piece on the disc is presented as a “bonus track” and is Maliszewski’s little ‘Melodia’ – a gorgeous little piece superbly played the virtuoso pianist Artur Cimirro. This is a wonderful creation and deserves to be heard more often.

The disc is quite generously filled at 68 minutes and the cover notes fill in a few biographical details about this interesting composer. I would say that overall, this is a fascinating disc – two very different string quartets written by a very obscure composer coupled with a rather charming little piano piece. The Four Strings Quartet do a super job with this music and, having heard this disc many times, I shall have to get to listen to more of his music as he had a distinctive and interesting voice which deserves to be heard more frequently.

Jonathan Welsh



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