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Stanislaw MONIUSZKO (1819-1872) Songs
Leszek Skrla (baritone)
Anna Mikolon (piano)
rec. 2018, Studio koncertowe Radio Gdańsk, Janusza Hajduna, Poland
Sung texts with German translations enclosed ACTE PRÉALABLEAP0435 [60:45]
Stanislaw Moniuszko was slightly younger than his compatriot Chopin, but while the latter left Poland when he was 20 and never returned, Moniuszko remained there all his life – apart from studies in Berlin 1837-1840 – and was instrumental in developing a national opera tradition, with Halka (1848, revised 1858) as his most important work. Even today it is regarded as the national opera of Poland. There are several recordings of Halka and also of The Haunted Manor but not very much else and outside Poland he is, I believe, little known. The issue of this collection of songs – he composed more than 300 – is thus utterly welcome. There is indeed a lot of enjoyable songs here, melodious, accessible and full of variety. Whether one appreciates the readings is another matter, which I will come back to.
The songs are sung in Polish, which is a nice language to listen to, in spite of the forbidding spelling with a plethora of consonants. Most of the poets are also Polish, but there are a couple of translations from other languages. The very first, Do you know such land, (I employ the English titles given in the booklet to avoid spelling mistakes) is, as one might guess, Goethe’s Kennst du das Land wo die Zitronen blühn from Wilhelm Meister. A very beautiful song. Mother, you’re gone (tr. 15), a translation of a Victor Hugo poem, is also fine. Two Auroras (tr. 2) is a jolly song in ¾-time, and jolly and quite fun is also The Shoulder (tr. 4). Krakowiaczek (tr. 5) is lively and enthusiastic: “I, a son of Crakow, is happy and funny” and the music clearly demonstrates that.
There follow a number of songs with military motifs. I’m particularly fond of An old corporal (tr. 12), where the old soldier marches stubbornly, eagerly spurred by the pianist. Oh, my mother (tr. 13) is tender-hearted and Incertitude (tr. 14) has a delicious melody. But my greatest favourite is I love you (tr. 16) – beautiful and touching. I was a bit consternated about the next song. Starość is literally “senility”, though the German translation says “Age” or “Old age”. Who could believe that this jolly melody depicts senility? But the gist of the text can be extracted from a couple of lines in the middle of the song: “The one who at dawn in happy mood can empty the chalice in one draught, who though shivering still can sing, he is not yet particularly old …” An optimistic song indeed!
So the programme is pleasing, and Anna Mikolon is an excellent accompanist, which I had observed before on a disc titled “Nightingale” on this label some years ago (review). To my shame I must admit that I didn’t give her credit then, but her playing was just as good then. The long discography in the booklet is proof enough of her excellence and versatility. Unfortunately I am less enthusiastic about the singing. Leszek Skrla has a quite heavy voice, more bass than baritone actually, and it is afflicted by a vibrato that at forte tends to spread. There is also a lot of strain. On the credit side we can enter a certain willingness to scale down and sing softly, he is expressive and can colour his tone – as a good song interpreter should. The last song, The old man and the old woman (tr. 18) is a good example of good execution of art songs – and this is not an isolated example. But the singing per se leaves a lot to be wished. I derived a lot of pleasure from this programme even so – but I wish it had been recorded ten years earlier.
1. Znaszli ten kraj (Do you know such land) (1846) [5:40]
2. Dwie zorze (Two Auroras) (before 1857) [2:18]
3. Morel (Apricot tree) (1842) [4:18]
4. Soltys (The Shoulder) (1858) [3:13]
5. Krakowiaczek (before 1850) [2:53]
6. Korale (Bead) (before 1870) [4:18]
7. Kozak (Cossack) (1849) [3:41]
8. Pieśńwojenna (Military song) [3:57]
9. Wyjazd na wojnę (Departure to the war) (1852) [0:56]
10. Czarny krzyżyk (The little black cross) (before 1860) [2:08]
11. Piosnka żolnierza (Soldier’s song) (1844) [1:38]
12. Stary kapral (An old corporal) (1857) [5:39]
13. O matko moja (Oh my mother) (1856-1858) [2:41]
14. Niepewność (Incertitude) (1837) [3:43]
15. Matko, jużnie ma cię (Mother, you’re gone) (before 1871) [3:17]
16. Ja ciebie kocham (I love you) (1868) [2:48]
17. Starość (Senility) (1857) [3:04]
18. Dziad i baba (The old man and the old woman) (1838 – 1842) [4:23]