Tadeusz MAJERSKI (1888–1963)
Concerto-Poem for piano and orchestra (1946, rev. 1956; scoring rev. and ed. Emilian Madey, 2008–9) [16:34]
Piano Quintet in the Form of Variations (1953) [14:55]
Cello Sonata (1949) [11:40]
Four Piano Preludes (1935) [8:13]
La Musique Oubliée: Three Musical Pictures (1948-49) [5:46]
Three Pieces for Piano (1935, 1953) [4:25]
Michał Drewnowski (piano)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Emil Tabakov
New Art Chamber Soloists; Arkadiusz Dobrowolski (cello)
rec. RSNO Centre, Glasgow, 15 December 2015; K Penderecki Hall, Radom, November 2013

Tadeusz Majerski has not had his breakthrough moment yet: that’s why labels such as Toccata exist, to promote the music of little-known composers such as this. The Polish pianist-composer is represented here by world premiere recordings of works dating from 1935 to 1963.

He spent his life in Lwów (now Lviv, in the Ukraine) but travelled widely as a solo pianist. He was taught at his native city’s Conservatoire and after injury to his hand turned increasingly to composition. He admired Schoenberg but wasn’t an out and out follower and the range of music on the disc attests to his desire for communicability and for a plurality of expression. He was clearly not wedded to a system; he was more flexible by far.

There’s a ripe late-Romanticism coursing through the Concerto-Poem for piano and orchestra but it’s shadowed by some combustible orchestral outbursts. Perhaps the nearest association would be a dissonant Medtner – the form itself reminding one of Medtner’s own predilection for pianistic poem narratives. There are moments of almost Shenandoah-like lyricism, though they too are shot through with dissonant elements; the splendidly dramatic end evokes Rachmaninovian triumph. The Piano Quintet dates from 1953 and opens with a recurring tick-tock motif. Cast in a series of variations, all helpfully separately tracked, there’s a rather earthy folkloric variation that reminds one of what Grażyna Bacewicz was doing in her contemporaneous chamber music. It dissolves into a stately, sturdily accomplished rather nineteenth century variation – a later variation is almost a pastiche of that element, making one wonder quite what was Majerski’s intention. The deft almost evanescent close brings back the tick-tock motif. So, an interesting style-shifting work.

The two-movement Cello Sonata opens with bell tolls in the piano’s bass, the writing being quasi-improvisational in the extreme, added to which there is a keening melancholy. The second of the two movements is fast with plenty of mood swings along the way and Rachmaninoff’s influence shows the way home.

Insistent aggression isn’t often a feature of Majerski’s music but it’s present in the second of the Four Piano Preludes, the most avant-garde piece in this disc – an unsettled intensity settles over the set. La Musique Oubliée is later and much more emollient, though there’s an uneasy quality to the depiction of ‘Sorrow’, ‘In the Dark’ and ‘At the Crossroad’ – the last of which is a delightful picture-poem. The Three Pieces come from wildly different time periods, with Etude, composed in 1963, joining the pre-existing two pieces written nearly thirty years previously. It just about fits together as a triptych.

The documentation is, as ever with Toccata, first class. And the well-recorded performances project the music with sensitive awareness of style and colour.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob Barnett

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