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Tadeusz SZELIGOWSKI (1896-1963)
Sonatina "dedicated to Stanislaw Szpinalski” (1940) [8:19]
Sonata (1949) [26:45]
Gitary z Zalamei (1938-39) [5:07]
Four Miniatures [7:14]
Elżbieta Tyszecka (piano)
rec. 2015/18, Sala Kameralna Filharmonii Łódzkiej; Polskie Radio Studio S1, Poland

Yet again, Acte Préalable has unearthed another unknown - well to me at least - Polish composer, which can only further the label’s growing reputation as the one to go to for all things Polish. Here we have a disc of the piano works of Tadeusz Szeligowski, a native of Lvov which is now one of the main cultural centres of Ukraine. He was introduced to music at an early age, his mother hoping that he would one day become a musician. After graduating from the Galician Conservatory in 1914, the young Tadeusz then entered Vienna University where he studied law. His studies were interrupted by the First World War when he served in the Austrian army, although his life was made easier when he became music teacher to the child of a high-ranking officer. After the war, he returned to his studies, gaining a law degree and in 1922 his PhD, after which he began practising in the local courthouse in Lvov. During this period, he also undertook further musical studies and began working at the Kraków Opera, an appointment that lasted some seven years. It was here that he met the woman destined to become his wife. In 1923 he took up a legal position in Vilnius, where he first met Karol Szymanowski and, becoming a great admirer of his music, set about developing the cultural and musical life of the city. In 1929, thanks to a scholarship he moved to Paris in order to study composition with Nadia Boulanger and instrumentation with Paul Dukas; his time in France had a lasting influence upon his music. He became a well-respected teacher and lecturer in musical theory, music history and composition and was influential in the founding of the Poznań Philharmonic Orchestra.

He composed a great deal of music in most genres, but despite this, the only list I could find contained little solo piano music. The first work on this disc is his short Sonatina of 1940, dedicated to his friend, the pianist Stanislaw Szpinalski. Despite the work’s brevity, its four movements lasting only seven minutes in total, it is quite a colourful work. It opens with a jovial Allegro moderato in which the influence of Poulenc can be heard; it is followed by a slow Arietta whose main theme is treated to various changes, almost as if it were a set of variations, and is repeated throughout. The final two movements resume a jovial character, the third movement opening with a brisk first theme before a more lyrical and slightly slower second theme which gives way to the original music of the movement then hurries to a conclusion. The final movement has a brisk cheerful theme that is repeated throughout but which gives way to a slightly slower second subject ending the movement and the work.

The real heart of this disc comes in the form of the Sonata in D minor from 1949, the largest and most powerful work on the disc; its three movements last longer than all the other works combined. Its opening Allegro con fuoco is alone longer than the preceding Sonatina and opens with a powerful statement of intent. The frivolity of the Sonatina has gone; this is a serious work with a main theme reminiscent of the piano music of his friend Szymanowski and even more of Rachmaninov. There are lighter episodes, but these appear as asides from the main late Romantic themes of the movement. The Andantino opens with a repeated four-note motif in the left hand before the entry of a melodious theme in the right; there follows a brief section where the left joins in the melody before returning to the four-note theme, this time slightly faster. There follows a more lyrical and expansive second theme, which is in turn followed by a return four-note motif and a return to the first theme, which this time is punctuated by tremolos in the right that develops into the transitional music leading into the final movement. The Allegro molto vivace is the brightest and quickest of the three movements, but even this is tempered by dark notes in the bass. Its opening theme is almost mechanical in the way that it is hammered out, yet it is without aggression; this leads again to a more lyrical section where the left hand holds the tune whilst the right has a run of notes. The movement ends with an almost cyclical re-emergence of the opening theme of the first movement which is treated slightly differently here. This is a very fine sonata and on the evidence of this work alone I am eager to hear more music by Tadeusz Szeligowski.

Gitary z Zalamei reflects Szeligowski’s enthusiasm for Spanish music; this short and expressive piece certainly displays elements of guitar-style as well as a liking for the piano music of Albéniz. Despite the brevity of the piece, a number of themes are introduced which are developed into an attractive whole, one that could easily be mistaken for a work by a Spanish composer.

The final four pieces are described as Four Miniatures in the booklet notes and could relate to the Small pieces for piano from 1952 that appears in the list of the composer’s compositions. This in reality is a short suite which opens with the Preludium, a piece that harkens back to Szeligowski’s French days. This is reinforced through the charming Minuet, the lilting Malinconia, which at just short of two and a half minutes is the longest of the four pieces. The finale is Mazurek - not the Polish Easter sweetmeat but a stately kujawiak, one of the five national dances of Poland; it is an inspired piece which ensures that this short suite ends with a really Polish feeling.

Although some might find 46:25 minutes a bit short measure, this disc is filled with rewarding music which is well worth investigating. It might display a French influence, but it is clearly essentially Polish with an air of France about it. Elżbieta Tyszecka’s playing is excellent throughout; she really gets to the heart of Szeligowski’s fine music, finding every nuance and change of character here, and her playing of the Sonata is wonderful. The recorded sound is very good, as are the booklet notes, which are in Polish and English. Acte Préalable should once again be applauded for bringing this wonderful music to our attention; all I can say is, more please!

Stuart Sillitoe



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