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Józef WIENIAWSKI (1837-1912)
Complete Vocal Works
Katarzyna Dondalska (soprano)
Ewa Filipowicz-Kosińska (mezzo-soprano)
Tomasz Krzysica (tenor)
Damian Chiliński (baritone)
Michał Landowski (piano)
Choir of the Szczecin Academy of the Arts/Barbara Halec
rec. 2017/18, Academy of the Arts, Szczecin, Poland
Booklet included (Polish, English) Song texts (German, Polish)

Born in a Poland that had ceased to exist as a political entity, Józef Wieniawski was the very personification of late-nineteenth-century, pan-European culture. The scion of a sophisticated, musical family, his older brother, Hynryk, was the brilliant violin virtuoso, whose name was mentioned in the same breath as that of Paganini. Both studied at the Paris Conservatory and then toured Europe together while still in their teens.

Their paths diverged in 1850 and Józef went on to study the piano with Liszt in Weimar and later composition in Berlin. From 1866 to 1869 he was a professor, alongside Tchaikovsky, at the Moscow Conservatory. In 1870 he moved to Warsaw, where he was a founding member of the Warsaw Music Society. Settling in Brussels in 1878 to teach piano at its conservatory, he resided there until his death in 1912.

His thirteen songs and six vocal duets comprise only a small portion of his compositional output, which is unsurprisingly weighted towards piano pieces and chamber music. His songs are choice, stylistically akin to the German Romantics - Schubert, Schumann and Brahms - as opposed to the more heady chromaticism of Liszt and Wagner. Little in them points the way forward to Mahler and Strauss.

Wieniawski’s taste in poets was eclectic, running from Wilhelm Müller, Heinrich Heine and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to Victor Hugo and Émile de Girardin, as well as Polish poets who were his contemporaries. One of whom was Zygmunt Krasiński (1812-1859), a rarity among poets as he was a wealthy aristocrat who would go on to play a pivotal role in establishing Poland’s cultural identity.

It should come as no surprise then, that one is automatically drawn to the piano accompaniments. The introductions instantly invoke a mood and place, transporting the listener to the private world of each song. It is not that the accompaniments dominate, but rather that they are so beguiling. Then again, Michał Landowski’s excellent playing and fine musicianship may have something to do with their allure on this recording.

The first selection, ‘Modlitwa do Najświętszej Maryi Penny Ostrobramskiej’ is a prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy in the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, Lithuania, known to the Poles as the Sharp Gate. It contains an image of the Blessed Virgin that dates from the early seventeenth century, believed to have magical healing powers. Wieniawski’s setting is a simple prayer, beautifully sung by soprano Katarzyna Dondalska.

Dondalska features heavily in the recital, displaying an expressive lyric soprano voice and a keen sensitivity to text. Her singing is absolutely lovely, especially in the strophic ‘Piesń wiosenna’ (Spring Song) with its lilting, idyllic accompaniment that ends with a flourish topped off by one of the soprano’s lovely, floated high notes.

She is partnered by mezzo-soprano Ewa Filipowicz-Kosińska in the six duets that make up Op. 47. Filipowicz-Kosińska’s deep, rich low notes contrast perfectly with Dondalska’s sparkling soprano. The duets are the equals of the solo songs in beauty and dramatic breadth.

The six songs that comprise his Op.50 were the last that Wieniawski composed. Each is a perfectly etched miniature ranging from the despair of ‘Grabschrift’ (Epitaph) to the irrepressible joys of spring in ’Morgenlied’ (Morning Song). The appeal of these songs is heightened by the lovely, fresh and natural singing of the silver-voiced Tomasz Krzysica.

The fine baritone Damian Chiliński is only heard in ‘Co jest życie?’ (What is life?), the second of the two songs that comprise Op.17, the other being ‘Piesń wiosenna’. Rueful and dramatic, with a declamatory vocal line and spare, chordal accompaniment, it ends with a rapturous piano postlude and the promise of salvation.

Originally scored for mixed chorus and string orchestra, Semiramis is the final work in this compilation, in which the composer evokes ancient Babylon with a Romantic palette of color and expression. Wieniawski also arranged it for piano accompaniment, the version heard here in a fresh-voiced, atmospheric rendition by the Choir of the Szczecin Academy of the Arts with Barbara Halec conducting.

Acte Préalable is on a mission to record all of Józef Wieniawski’s works. Its founder and president, Jan A. Jarnicki exhumed these long-neglected songs from archives and libraries, just the first step in bringing them to live audiences. I have heard songs by Mieczysław Karłowicz, Stanisław Moniuszko and Karol Szymanowski already this year in Carnegie Hall, hopefully some Wieniawski will soon join the list.

Another wish is that Acte Préalable will find further opportunities to showcase the talents of Tomasz Krzysica and Michał Landowski. I want to hear more of these two fine artists.

Rick Perdian

Ave Maria – Modlitwa do Najświętszej Maryi Panny Ostrobramskiej, Op. 16 (1895) [4:16]
Four Songs, Op.38 (1883) [15:35]
Two Songs, Op.17 (1859 & 1884) [7:13]
Six Songs, Op.50 (c.1895) [21:03]
Six Duos, Op.47 (c.1883) [20:49]
Semiramis, Op. 52 (1887) [3:30]

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