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Simon LAKS (1901-1983)
In Between
Sonata for cello and piano (1932) [17:36]
Polish Suite for violin and piano (1935) [22:40]
Ballade Hommage à Chopin for piano (1949) [9:52]
Concerto da camera for piano, 9 wind instruments & percussion (1964) [16:02]
Błażej Goliński (cello)
Robert Kwiatkowski (violin),
Dominika Glapiak (piano)
Dorota Kowalska (flute), Alicja Szymczyk (oboe), Andrzej Wojciechowski, Wojciech Kolinski (clarinets), Miroslaw Pachowicz, Ewa Naczk-Jankowska (bassoons), Zbigniew Kalicinski, Ewa Ciechanska (horns) Kamil Kruczkowski (trumpet)
Mateusz Wiczynski (percussion)
rec. 2018, Green Hall of the Polish Baltic Frédéric Chopin Philharmonic
CD ACCORD ACD249-2 [66:30]

In his booklet note about his father, André Laks comments about his being “in many aspects in between: between Polish and French, between Jewishness and assimilation, between indelible past and ordinary life.” A survivor of Auschwitz, his life was inevitably affected: “what I saw and experienced there could not leave my psychological and creative sides untouched.” This programme brings us music from both sides of this trauma.

I’ve come across the Sonata for cello and piano before on a disc from the EDA label (review), and find much to admire both performances in this pleasantly romantic and jazz-tinged music. Leonid Gorokhov and Vladimir Stoupel are more wistful and poetic, and Błażej Goliński’s intonation has a tendency to be a little less secure in the higher registers, but the bluesy second movement has a gorgeous Gershwin like character in this performance, and I appreciate the more earthy approach these musicians have; the kind of difference in interpretation that makes one appreciate the work all over again.

The Polish Suite for violin and piano is colourful and full of poignant spirit, Laks weaving his country’s music into a vibrant score that includes folk fiddling, dance rhythms and modal tonalities that are unmistakeably national in identity. Robert Kwiatkowski allows his playing to take on the rough edges that this music occasionally requires, and the wide contrasts in the piano part are taken with naturalness and apparent ease by Dominika Glapiak. Laks dedicated this piece to Karol Szymanowski, and these two composers share something in some of the harmonic corners and resolutions that pop out, especially in the bittersweet central Andante.

Post-war, the Ballade Hommage à Chopin for piano solo was a commission for the International Chopin Competition in 1949. It integrates Chopin’s musical and pianistic idiom into Laks’ tendency to throw in some jazzy chords, and in this case to heighten Chopin’s French-ness in the first section with some touches of Debussy. The following section has more of Chopin’s revolutionary character without going too full-on, the lyrical adaptations further along being of the kind you should give your friends a blind listening test in. You hear Chopin, but never as you’ve heard it before.

The USP of this programme is the world premiere recording of the Concerto da camera, which has the piano at its virtuoso centre, while the timbres of the winds and percussion create a Kurt Weill-café orchestra effect, aided by the apparent compactness of the unnamed recording venue. The first movement is a witty Allegro non troppo, the second a slow waltz Andantino that perhaps hints at Ravel while taking its tonality to mind-mangling realms. The final Allegro assai introduces a fugal counterpoint worthy of Hindemith, romping home in high spirits.

This is a fine programme with good performances and recordings. Simon Laks’ music is of a kind that is not hard to appreciate, and is easy to enjoy without being superficial. His philosophy included a keen desire that “music should not be boring.” You will certainly not be bored by this recording, and Simon Laks is a name of which we should all be aware.

Dominy Clements

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