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Zygmunt NOSKOWSKI (1846-1909)
Piano Works - Volume 3
Trois Cracoviennes, Op. 5 (9:05)
Trois morceaux, Op. 22 (6:35)
Danses polonaises, Op. 23a & 23b (5:38)
Trois morceaux, Op. 26 (9:47)
Images - six morceaux caractéristiques, Op. 27 (17:59)
Deux morceaux, Op. 15 (9:31)
Anna Mikolon (piano)
rec. 2015, Studio Koncertowe im Janusza Hajduna Radio Gdansk (Concert Hall of the Musical Academy in Gdansk)

Some time ago I reviewed an earlier disc in this series (review) and I commented that I hoped that the pianist, Anna Mikolon, would continue with her survey of the piano music of Noskowski. Having now received volumes 3 and 4 of the series, I am glad to say that she has, albeit in collaboration with Anna Liszewska, for the works for piano duet on volume 4.

Anyway, this disc comprises of more short sets of character pieces of varying length and temperament. The first 3 ‘Cracoviennes’ are in a similar vein to the works found on volume 2, charming, distinctive and interesting. The first is distinctly mournful to start with but has a swing to the central part of it which puts me in mind of a Chopin Mazurka, albeit one with some key changes which Chopin wouldn’t and couldn’t have written. The opening theme returns to a major key to usher in the last minute of the piece which is, again in a minor key and some tragic hints before ending positively. The second of the set is an ‘Allegretto tranquillo’ but is much jollier! This bounces along very nicely with a charming contrasted middle section which is more virtuosic and leaps around the keyboard. The piece returns to the rather child-like music from the beginning to finish. Lastly is an atmospheric little ‘Allegretto’ with a rather odd sounding beginning before it becomes more tonal and conventional. The ending is quite a surprise as it suddenly accelerates to a rapid conclusion. These three pieces work well as a set and Anna Mikolon plays them very well.

The next pieces are also arranged in a set of three however this time they are not quite as Polish-centred as the melodies evoked are from Bohemia, Russia and, only in the final piece, do we have Poland. The opening ‘Dumka’ is lovely, a little gem of a piece with memorable themes and an underlying melancholy in the first section. The following livelier part is wistful and evaporates away to nothing. The following ‘Trepak’ is much more energetic and certainly gives the pianist plenty to do. This piece is another earworm which should stick in your head! Finally we have an Elegiac Polonaise which is the saddest piece on the disc and is closer to Chopin’s pieces of the same name in feeling. The whole piece is slow and mournful and, unlike the other pieces in the set, does not have too many unexpected outbursts of increased volume.

Tracks 4 and 5 are another pair of Polish Dances, another ‘Cracovienne’ and then a ‘Mazurka’. The first is again doleful but with a passage which starts at 0’21’’ which is much happier. It doesn’t stay like this for long as at 1’00’’ a charming theme starts up in a nice contrast to the earlier music. Despite this, and some more cheerfulness before the conclusion, the piece ends sombrely. The ‘Mazurka’ is highly energetic, and has some interesting key changes and the pianist sounds as if she has a lot to do. I really like the bouncing rhythm at about 1’30’’ which leads to a more impassioned section before bouncing back again with a trill which returns you to the music from the beginning. This is lovely stuff.

The following ‘Trois Morceaux’ were written slightly later but consist of 3 contrasted piece. The beginning of the first puts me in mind of some themes found in Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies (S244) but develops in a way that none of those do. This is another memorable little piece, expertly crafted and very well played - the ending is really quite touching. The second piece almost sounds like something which I’ve heard before but I know for a fact that I hadn’t heard it before I obtained this disc. It’s lovely and very short. The concluding piece is another ‘Polonaise’ and at 5’43’’ is the longest piece on the disc. This, unlike the earlier Polonaise from Op.22, sounds nothing like Chopin. The central section (2’00’’ onwards) has something quite tragic about it and develops interestingly into a section without a polonaise rhythm at all. The spacious opening theme returns to finish off this fascinating little creation, which I think is deserving of more frequent performances.

Next follow the six ‘Images’ with various subtitles. The first is titled ‘A l’improviste’ and does sound like a little improvisation. It’s a varied little piece and goes through several transitions before concluding wistfully. The rousing ‘Picador’ follows and this is more energetic and virtuosic and sounds like a waltz gone wrong! A ‘Monologue’ follows, and the title is an apt description of the music. The right hand plays a memorable theme meandering its way along before giving way to a more agitated and argumentative passage about 1’00’’ in. The closing minute is a sort of mix of the two, the differentiation between the themes, now in both hands, is excellently controlled. Another bouncing ‘Cracovienne’ follows - I’m beginning to think that, like Chopin and his Mazurkas, Noskowski wrote an awful lot of these! This one is more energetic than the others elsewhere on the disc and is really rather wonderful. The two last pieces in this set are the longest; firstly there is an ‘Idylle’ which is slow and rather emotional to start with. Again, this has more memorable themes - especially the contrasted section in the middle which puts me in mind of a supercharged version of Chopin’s Etude Op.10 no.4 and is not at all easy. The opening theme returns, accompanied by some delicate trills before the piece concludes. The ‘Zingaresca’ concludes the six pieces and seems to be mostly concerned with leaping about, the Hungarianisms are not hugely pointed up in this little work but there is certainly a Magyar influence throughout. It’s not divided up like, for example, a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody into two contrasted segments, it more seems like a progression from one into another so themes develop and interlock to give an remarkable and differentiated piece not without grandeur.

The last 2 pieces are dedicated to Alexander Michalowski, the great Polish pianist and composer who also taught a whole slew of Polish composers and pianists from around this time. The first piece is a Ukrainian Ballade (similar to the first of Liszt’s Glanes de Woronince S. 249) and starts sadly and slowly. This changes after about half a minute to a rather pretty little tune which evolves into a rather simple and almost hymn-like melody before picking up the pace as the piece draws to a close. The second is more energetic and contrasted and is a dance like Polonaise. The opening is rather odd and more like one of Chopin’s ‘Écossaises’ before the slow polonaise starts proper about 0’40’’. This speeds up and alters into the energetic écossaise rhythm before a charming springy theme starts up and this continues for some time – there is some interesting harmony in the base here. The contrasted part which follows gradually grows in power and velocity before a waltz like tune emerges. This doesn’t persist for long and changes into a rather gallant ending with some powerful playing required. I do like this piece very much!
Noszkowski was obviously a very skilled writer of miniatures as well as longer works (such as his symphonies) and deserves to be more widely heard. In his day, several works were clearly popular as versions exist for violin and piano and were published along with the original. The cover notes are quite short but full of useful information.

I am pleased to say that I already have volume 4 to review and I am looking forward to discovering more of this neglected figure’s works in this fascinating series of recordings with the talented Anna Mikolon who, as I’ve said before, seems perfectly in tune with the composer’s writing. If you like charming, slightly melancholic music with a slight hint of eastern European melody, you are bound to like these CDs.

Jonathan Welsh

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