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Raul KOCZALSKI (1885-1948)
Violin Concerto in D minor Op. 84 (1915) [26:49]
Cello Concerto in E major Op. 85 (1915) [20:51]
Agnieszka Marucha (violin), Łukasz Tudzierz (cello), Orkiestra Symfoniczna Filharmonii Lubelskiej im. Henryka Wieniawskiego / Wojciech Rodek
rec. 2018, Filharmonii Lubelskiej im. Henryka Wieniawskiego, Poland

This evolving Raul Koczalski series is spinning some surprises. To those who know him only as a pianist, the evidence of his large-scale compositions may well come as something of a shock, not least because one might have expected that his significance as a famous virtuoso might have precluded him from the sustained effort necessary for composition.

However, as a look at his extensive work list, freely available online, will indicate he was a prolific composer at various points in his career. Previous releases have been devoted to piano concertos and chamber music and now here are the string concertos, which were written in close proximity in 1915 and are in fact opus neighbours, following closely on the heels of the Second Piano Concerto of 1914.

The Violin Concerto is cast in three conventional movements. From its relaxed Moderato movement onward, it revels in unbridled lyricism and easy-going warmth adding some figuration for the dexterous soloist to negotiate, the orchestra responsible for subtle transformation of material. Violin lyricism predominates in the central slow movement, avoiding overt virtuosity, and deft orchestration ensures expressive breadth. There is a big contrast in the Polonaise finale, the most obviously Polish of the three movements. The orchestra is prepared to take on a more sinewy role whilst the soloist reprises the songful elegance that characterises the concerto. Koczalski could not have then known Młynarski’s Second Violin Concerto, as it was written a year after his, but wasn’t performed until 1920. But maybe he knew Moszkowski’s 1883 Concerto and, perhaps a little more to the point, Karłowicz’s 1903 Concerto, which like Koczalski’s, opens with a brief orchestral statement before the soloist presents the main theme. Both concertos share a second subject of lyric simplicity and ineffable beauty.

The Cello Concerto is a more compact though still three-movement work that opens with a brooding Maestoso with a rhapsodic element at work. The Largo is reflective with some glistening harp colours and fine wind solos. Koczalski is cautious about the dangers of drowning the cello; he is sparing in his brass for example, and really only unleashes the cellist’s instincts for virtuoso roulades in the finale where much is made of it. Framing orchestral writing is apt but the end is rather abrupt and to be frank the Cello Concerto lacks precisely those qualities that make the Violin Concerto distinctive.

This is no reflection on soloist Łukasz Tudzierz who plays splendidly. But there’s no doubting that Agnieszka Marucha has more to work with and responds with technical accomplishment and a good sense of the music’s unselfconscious charm. Presiding over both works is Wojciech Rodek whose Lublin forces, though not vast, are sympathetic and sensitive throughout.

Jonathan Woolf

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