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Ignacy Jan PADEREWSKI (1860-1941)
Sonata in A minor for Violin and Piano, Op. 13 [27:65]
Miroslaw GASIENIEC (b.1954)
Sonata for Violin and Piano [31:21]
Antoni STOLPE (1851 – 1872)
Nocturne (arr. Gasieniec) [4:19]
Jacek Ropski (violin)
Miroslaw Gasieniec (piano)
rec. 2016, Concert Hall of the Karol Lipinski Academy of Music, Wroclaw, Poland

Paderewski composed only a small number of works for violin and piano, including the early Song in F major (from 1878) and a Romance in A major, Op.7 (from around 1882). His initial success as a concert pianist followed soon after this in 1883 and subsequent attempts to compose a violin concerto in 1887-8 were unsuccessful, probably as a result of the demands of his concert career. The big, romantic Violin Sonata, published as Paderewski’s Op.13, appears to date from the period of 1880-82 whilst he was a student of Friedrich Kiel in Berlin. It came to the attention of Brahms, who liked the work and described it as a “Concert Sonata” – most likely because of the virtuoso display piano part. Whilst there is some affinity with the music of Brahms, the work probably has more in common, melodically, with the style of the first violin sonata of Saint-SaŽns and the sonatas of Grieg, together with elements of the Zigeuner side of Wieniawski (although the violin part is relatively restrained). There are three movements: Allegro con fantasia, Intermezzo and Finale – Allegro molto. In places the simple Intermezzo is reminiscent of the lovely slow movement of the Piano Concerto.

This sonata is not generally regarded as a great masterpiece but it is certainly memorable and well worth hearing – and it has been recorded several times. I enjoyed a recent performance on Naxos, by Adam Kostecki and Gunther Hauer, which had the odd coupling of both of the violin concertos of Jacques Loussier (review), so I principally used this for purposes of comparison. However, two other performances seem to be readily available. The Pavane label has a performance by Robert Szreder and Boguslaw Jan Strobel which Rob Barnett liked (review). This is coupled with the Szymanowski Violin Sonata. More recently Konstanty Kulka and Waldemar Malicki recorded the work for a rather short-measure offering from Dux which, nevertheless, impressed Jonathan Woolf (review). The incomplete Allegro de Concert (reconstructed by Arnold Rezler), with which the sonata is coupled on the Dux disc, may be what remains of Paderewski’s unfinished violin concerto, referred to above.

On the present Wratislavia disc, Jacek Ropski has a fast vibrato, excellent intonation and a full, warm tone - albeit with a slight edge in places.  The pianist, Miroslaw Gasieniec, is also pretty good - although some very minor stumbles in his passage-work could have been patched to advantage. The recording is fine – clear, warm and slightly reverberant. On Naxos, the outer movements are very slightly faster but the Intermezzo is slower and the overall timings for the work are almost identical. (NB. On Dux Kulka and Malicki are over three minutes faster, overall.) Direct comparison shows performance styles to be pretty similar, although I feel that Kostecki’s tone is to be preferred because he manages to avoid the slight edge that Ropski develops in places. Unfortunately, the Naxos acoustic is comparatively over-reverberant and the pianist’s fine contribution gets a bit lost in the wash in places.

For all the attractions of the Paderewski sonata, the present disc seems to be intended principally to provide an introduction to a significant chamber work of a contemporary Polish composer and the Violin Sonata by the disc’s pianist is something of a find. In the very limited (and somewhat poorly translated) cover notes, Ropski says that the work “… proves that there are still contemporary composers who have not been lost in sonoristic search, and their works are still beautiful and charming like Disney’s fairy tale music”. I don’t think a comparison with Disney sound tracks actually gives the listener a realistic guide to what to expect here. Gasieniec studied with Lutoslawski but you might also be hard put to guess that from this piece. If asked to identify the period and nationality of the music I would probably have said mid-twentieth century French. It doesn’t sound like Poulenc but it inhabits that kind of tuneful world – quite different from that of, say, Bartok. At any rate, it makes a very good companion piece for the Paderewski. It has three movements: Andante con moto, Intermezzo – Andante tranquillo, and Finale.

The first movement has an Andante introduction with stops and starts, before the con moto element – which is full of twists, turns and effortlessly interesting changes of key. The Intermezzo is set predominantly around the middle registers of the piano and their violin counterparts. There is a lovely passage near the end where there is a harp-like accompaniment on the piano. Throughout the work the key changes suggest that each movement will end somewhere remote from the starting key and some fun can be had trying to predict whether or not the composer will manage to negotiate a route back. Mind you, it is often quite difficult to work out what the starting key actually is. Like the first movement, the Finale also has a slow introduction, leading to a bustling violin theme with almost bird-song like accompaniment in what sounds like a virtuoso piano part. At the big climax to the movement there is a memorable violin melody before the work comes to a sudden stop. A fine piece!

The pleasant little Nocturne that provides a fill-up sounds not unlike a salon piece by Elgar or Kreisler. Ostensibly it is by the short-lived Polish composer, Antoni Stolpe, in an arrangement for violin and piano by Gasieniec.  I say “ostensibly” because Gasieniec seems to have form with regard to touching up the extant works of Stolpe. A Pro Musica Camerata double album of 2008 of Stolpe’s works for piano, performed by Gasieniec, received adverse criticism because the pianist was accused of amending some (presumably otherwise complete) works with fragments of his own composition and even going so far as creating his own paraphrases to replace elements of original works. Assuming that what we have here is merely an arrangement, I feel that it is sympathetic enough to be wholly uncontroversial.

Those who enjoy reading informative booklet notes will be disappointed but the music’s the thing; I enjoyed this disc and was pleased to make the acquaintance of Gasieniec’s sonata. However, as indicated above, there are other good couplings for the Paderewski sonata out there. Bearing in mind the competing merits of the various performances and recordings, which version of the Paderewski sonata you go for should probably be determined principally by your choice of coupling.

Bob Stevenson

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