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Jonathan Woolf
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Raul KOCZALSKI (1885-1948)
Piano Concerto No.3 in C major, Op.125 [26:16]
Piano Concerto No.4 in B flat major, Op.130 [29:51]
Joanna Ławrynowicz (piano)
Orkiestra Symfoiczna Filharmonii im Henryka Wieniawskiego w Lublinie/Wojciech Rodek
rec. 2018, Filharmonia Lubelska im. Henryka Wieniawskiego, Poland

I gave a very positive review to this disc’s predecessor, which contains recordings by the same pianist of Koczalski’s first and second piano concertos, and that review can be read here. The dates of the third and fourth concertos are not known but the immediate predecessor of the third, his Impromptu Op.124 dates from 1938 and the next dated work, his Legend for Piano Op.127 dates from 1940. The less conventional style of both these concertos shows a distinct development, and were there no other evidence, it alone would put them several years after the second (1914-16).

It is not much of an exaggeration to say that the first concerto begins with a crash, bang and wallop. Not so the third, whose first movement, andantino, quasi allegretto, begins gently in a style about as far removed from the early concerto as can be imagined: a few seconds of murmuring strings and the piano enters ruminatively, soon to be joined by the orchestral support. Much of the movement, the longest of the four, is in the form of gentle conversations between piano and orchestra. The principal melody, sung by the strings is beautifully romantic, and about half way through the movement’s 9 minutes, the piano joins in and brings a brief central climax to the proceedings. The rest of the movement is a gentle, occasionally playful meander to the quiet close. The second movement, allegretto deciso is brief – 3.5 minutes, in which a quartet – piano, two violins and a cello play a major role. It is quite a sparkling little piece. The third movement, lento allows the composer to indulge in sighing melody with the piano in dialogue with solo violin, strings and wind. Naturally enough, for a slow movement, we expect, and get, the height of romanticism, and very enjoyable it is too. The last movement begins tempo di marcia, although it soon calms down and enters the world of lush romanticism, only to return briefly to the march later on, when it is commented on by woodwind solos. Then, for the last half-minute Koczalski gives the orchestra its head, and the march theme ends the work triumphantly.
It doesn’t come across as a romantic warhorse, a display piece, with the soloist hurtling up and down the keyboard, rather the music is shared more evenly between soloist and orchestra.
The fourth concerto was probably composed in the early 1940’s, and so is a close companion to the third. It is an unusual work, again in no way a romantic war-horse. When I first heard the second movement, scherzo-allegretto, the jaunty style occasionally reminded me of Saint-Saëns, and it is most noticeable that the instrumentation often reduced to a bare minimum, sometimes a single instrument playing whilst the piano is silent. The first movement has the piano acting as primus inter pares with the rest of the orchestra. Critics at the first performance commented that the activity in the orchestra was more interesting than the activity of the soloist, and this does reflect the integrated form of the work. However, don’t take this as an indication that it is not an interesting piece – quite the reverse; Koczalski’s melodic gift is abundantly present, and in the slow movement, the emotional core of the work, the composer once again indulges in assigning important melodic roles to instruments other than the piano. The climax of the movement is almost attained by the orchestra alone, with the piano joining in at the last moment to cap the climax. The last movement, viva con anima, ma non presto, starts with the solo piano presenting a jaunty dance. Only after this idea is defined by the soloist does the orchestra join in to amplify it. Thereafter, diverse textures in the orchestra seem to be just as important as the piano part; for example, there is a repeated trumpet solo during which the piano just plays simple chords. In the last minute of the work the orchestra carries the melody to a lovely, quite passionate conclusion, and whilst the piano is present, it can hardly be described as dominant.

Like its predecessor, this CD has given me enormous pleasure, and I hope that Acte Préalable will be able to record the last two of his six piano concertos. Then there are his two symphonies, a symphonic poem, ballets, nine piano sonatas and operas, not to mention 200 songs and assorted chamber works. I am used to praising Hyperion for their wonderful Romantic Piano Concertos series, and although Acte Préalable have nowhere near the size of catalogue as Hyperion, their efforts in promoting little-known Polish music is highly commendable. Interestingly, the company name makes reference to an unfinished mystical composition by Scriabin; L'acte préalable, the 'preconditional' movement to his planned apocalyptic work Mysterium.

The recording is full, nicely resonant with excellent support from the conductor and orchestra, and the pianist, Joanna Ławrynowicz, is fully up to the virtuoso and poetic demands of the writing. The piano is nicely balanced in the recorded acoustic, and documentation in the glossy booklet is in Polish and English and is very nicely presented.

Jim Westhead

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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