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Józef WIENIAWSKI (1837-1912)
Piano works - Volume 4
24 Etudes en 4 cahiers pour piano, Op.44 (76:43)
Artur Cimirro (piano)
rec. 2017, Opus Dissonus Studios, Brazil

I’ve been following this series of recordings since it began as I feel that Józef Wieniawski is a very interesting and neglected figure whose music deserves to be better known. The previous discs of this series have used various different pianists but here on volume 4 we have the Brazilian virtuoso Artur Cimirro whose recordings of piano works by Tausig and Zichy for the same label I reviewed some time ago. Incidentally, volume 2 of this series is reviewed here.

Wieniawski’s Etudes Op.44 number 24 in total and these are subdivided into 4 books, each of 6 pieces. Each one is dedicated to a different pianist, some of whom are still well known, such as Moszkowski, Scharwenka and Anton Rubinstein whereas others, such as Antoine Door and Henri Barth have faded into obscurity to varying degrees. None of the works here is longer than 5’43’’ so the whole set fits nicely onto a single CD with a good playing time. The cycle of keys used is similar to that found in Chopin’s Preludes (Op.28) so we start with C major and gradually progress through a cycle of descending relative minor keys, with some odd unexpected inclusions along the way.

This first étude starts joyously with some virtuosic passagework for the right hand with a tune in the left. There is a very complex sounding connecting section in which the left hand has some difficult sounding chromatic scales to negotiate which serve as a linking passage before the original theme reappears. Next is an A minor étude, with a lot of intricate jumping about in both hands and an atmosphere of feverishness. The following G major étude is a mixture of powerful and delicate and herein lies the difficulty. The following E minor is one of the longest pieces in the set and has the tempo direction of ‘Religioso’ at the beginning. It’s very nicely played with a sort of yearning atmosphere, all handled perfectly by Mr.Cimirro. The middle section however, is a different kettle of fish altogether; it’s more declamatory and powerful before transitioning back to the religious opening theme from the opening. This is a strange work, with plenty of speed and power in the middle and an odd quiet ending. For the 5th étude, we are in D major and return to ‘Allegro’ and finger twisting music of phenomenal difficulty. The final piece in book 1 is in B minor and is ‘Misterioso’ with lots of arpeggios and split chords for the right hand. The left hand tune provides the mysteriosness and the central section is more of a song without words before the virtuosity returns and the piece concludes with a suitably sinister ending.

Book 2 starts in jolly mood with an A major work, an ‘Allegro energico’ which it certainly is. This piece has a dedication to Hans von Bülow and contains some seriously impressive repeated note work by the pianist here! This is proper jaw dropping stuff and it’s a super piece. A ‘Vivo’ in F sharp minor follows with lots of leaping about and a hint of Chopin as found in the Op.10 études. The ‘Allegro giocoso’ which follows reminds me of Anton Rubinstein in its construction. The opening tune is rather sunny and happy before a very powerful tune in the bass begins and this interleaves nicely with the opening music for the remainder of the piece. There are lots of octave passages here, all played perfectly. The following piece is the longest on the disc and is much more restrained and really rather touching. We reach B major next with a ‘Tempo guisto’ which is exactly that – the right hand has some very complex figurations to deal with while the left hand plays a mournful and elegant tune. Book 2 ends with an étude full of repeated notes and chords, all played ‘Presto’. There is a fair amount of left hand leaping about here as well, just to add to the mix. The central section is much quieter and is really quite sad in feeling before the virtuoso music returns for the end. This is another really memorable work which should stick in your head for days - I really enjoyed getting to know this little piece and its intricacies.

Book 3 starts with a G flat major ‘Cantando’ dedicated to Litolff. This is incredibly delicate and difficult to start with before the left hand joins in picks up the pace even more. This is another piece full of memorable melodies. E flat minor is not a happy key to write a piece in so the following work starts off not at all cheerfully. Overall, it’s subtitled ‘Con fantasia’ and is very strange mixture of happy and sad. It also has a very powerful fugal section in the middle leading to some more jolly writing towards the end. This gains in power and gets progressively angrier sounding before dissolving to a exultant conclusion; it’s an odd melange of styles that strangely works well. Track 15 is in the odd key of D flat minor and starts in a friendly manner with interplay between the hands. This evolves into something which sounds almost jazzy before the interplay returns, augmented with additional arpeggios, tremelandos and a nice theme in the bass. This is another “melange” type of piece with lots of difficult passagework for the left hand – not surprisingly it was dedicated to the left hand virtuoso Count Geta Zichy. Another ‘Misterioso’ is found next, this time in B flat minor – the same key as the finale of Chopin’s famous Funeral March Sonata (Op.35). This is almost a hybrid of that work and Alkan’s “Le Vent” – the second of his Souvenirs 'Trois morceaux dans le genre pathétique', Op.15. It also has the same sort of sound world and sounds nearly as difficult as that amazing work. The ending is really quite chilling. Things are much less scary in the following piece in the cheerful key of A flat. This is another piece with lots of repeated notes and a rather nice swing to it in the bass. The ‘molto cantando’ here is nicely judged in this delightful little piece with a singing like tune and lots of tremelandos, plus the odd unexpected key change, just to spice things up a little. The last piece of book 3 is in F minor and is led by the bass tune in octaves with lots of split chords in the right hand providing a nice counterpoint to the bass. However, around a minute in we get arpeggios zooming up the keyboard before the bass tune returns and is then interrupted again before a rather abrupt conclusion.

The final book begins in E flat major with number 19. This is a canon in structure and is again content in atmosphere and memorable. The next étude, in C minor is an ‘Andantino contemplativo’ also marked ‘quasi barcarolla’ and is rather lovely. There are lots of difficult trills here for the right hand and some gently flowing accompaniment from the left hand. Things speed up again for the smiling B flat major étude which is next – this is very rapid and elusive with some very large sounding leaps for the right hand. The middle section is more of a march and it’s rather charming and poetic to begin with before darkening. After this, the opening music returns again only to become very dark very briefly close to the conclusion of the piece which surprisingly ends happily. No.22 is dedicated to Grieg and is a ‘Molto agitato’ of considerable difficulty which I am sure he would have liked. It’s full of scampering in the right hand and some rather incredible effects in the bass, reminding me of some of Anton Rubinstein’s études. F major is next with some rapid passagework for the right hand and some lovely harmonic touches, all reminding me again of Chopin crossed with Rubinstein. There is a lot going on here in this piece and it’s rather entertaining. Lastly, we have another ‘Misterioso’, this time in D minor – I think Wieniawski must have been rather fond of that instruction in his music! This is a powerful little piece lasting almost 4 minutes and it goes through a lot of changes of mood and tempo in this short span. I’d say the overall atmosphere here is one of anger as it becomes progressively more fiendishly difficult and loud. This work could easily have been subtitled “Storm” or “Tempest” or something similar.

The music here is somewhat reminiscent of Chopin at his most difficult with added Lisztian and Anton Rubinsteinian (if there can be such a word) touches. That said, it’s all rather fun and Artur Cimirro clearly enjoys himself playing this repertoire and writes a rather nice little essay about it for the cover notes. These are quite extensive and cover quite a lot of information (in tiny writing) about the composer and additionally mention some of his other works which I never knew existed. The recorded sound is clear and bright, perhaps a little too bright in places but once your ears adjust, it’s fine. I must say that I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to this disc and it is one I shall return to often as there is much of interest. Overall, it’s a really splendid disc of wonderful neglected repertoire, played by a pianist who is clearly very at home in this sound world.

Jonathan Welsh

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