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The Stanisław Moniuszko International Competition of Polish Music 2019 – Volume 5
Józef ELSNER (1769-1854)
Violin sonata in F major, Op. 10 No. 1 [9:17]
Violin sonata in E flat major, Op. 10 No. 3 [13:15]
Ignacy Feliks DOBRZYŃSKI (1807-1867)
Rondo alla polacca, for piano four hands, Op. 6 (ca 1827) [12:52]
Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 17: I. Allegro moderato (1831) [14:40]
Andante e rondo alla polacca, for flute and piano, Op. 42 (1843) [11:42]
Zygmunt NOSKOWSKI (1846-1909)
Violin sonata in A minor: Movements I & III [16:41]
Roksana Kwaśnikowska (violin), Łukasz Chrzęszczyk (piano)
Effimero Duo
Andriuti-Shemchuk Piano Duo
Cuore Piano Trio
Polish Art Duo
rec. 2019, Concert Hall of the Artur Malawski Podkarpacka Philharmonic, Rzeszów, Poland
DUX 1657 [78:38]

When I requested this and another volume in the series, it was mainly for a very rare piano trio on each. As it turned out, I was somewhat thwarted on this disc, as the Dobrzyński is only the first movement. I hadn’t given any thought to the fact this series is a record of a competition, hence the presence of “bleeding chunks”.

This is the first edition of the Moniuszko Competition; given the current circumstances, I hope that there will actually be a second, but I doubt it will be this year, unless it is done by Zoom. The stated intention is “to present and popularise the Polish musical output of the 19th and 20th centuries, especially the underrated or forgotten works”. On this disc, the latter aspect of that aim is certainly achieved, as Elsner, Noskowski and Dobrzyński, if not completely forgotten, are certainly on the margins, only known by those who enjoy searching for the unsung composer.

Elsner’s main claim to fame was that he was Chopin’s teacher; he also taught Dobrzyński. He was born the year before Beethoven, and his two violin sonatas have that feel, though at the gentler end of the spectrum. They are pleasant enough, but do not linger in the memory; the F major is the more interesting of the two. In part, that may be due to a better performance, which reminds one of another aspect of a competition recording: the performers are not professionals, but rather aspiring hopefuls, and you get a number of different performers on the disc. The Polish pair of Roksana Kwaśnikowska and Łukasz Chrzęszczyk play the F major Elsner and the Noskowski here, gaining an honourable mention from the judges. They are more dynamic than the Effimero Duo who play the other Elsner, and Kwaśnikowska also produces a better violin timbre than her counterpart.

The Noskowski violin sonata is the other work to be missing something, in this case its middle movement, a very lengthy set of variations. Jonathan Woolf reviewed a recording on the Polish label Acte Prealable of the full work, finding it “diffuse” and “overblown”. Given that the timing difference between the two recordings is over 23 minutes, I’m glad that I had only had the outer movements here. They are engaging enough, especially the Prestissimo finale, which belts along at a fair old pace. Kwaśnikowska and Chrzęszczyk do a very good job here, though the former’s timbre does suffer a little in the most vigorous parts.

Works for piano four hands occupy little of my listening time, and the Dobrzyński doesn’t change my opinion. It is jolly, and undoubtedly good fun for the performers, but goes on for far too long. I know a rondo is inherently repetitive but after listening to it in full, I played small segments at random and it was almost impossible to distinguish them. So to the main reason for requesting this disc, the trio which was dedicated to Johann Hummel. The length of this first of four movements explains why only it was performed – the full work is around 45 minutes. I hadn’t heard the trio before – there is only one other recording, on Acte Prealable (review), and our reviewer described it as Schubertesque, which I can hear, but the influence of the dedicatee in the piano part leaps out at me. While it doesn’t really have enough material to sustain the almost 15 minutes, there is plenty to savour, leading me to regret that we don’t get the rest. Very well played by the Polish Cuore Trio, who played this in the final, but didn’t finish among the prizewinners. Chamber music for flute occupies about as much of my listening time as that for piano four hands, but I did enjoy the Polish Art Duo’s performance of the Andante e rondo alla polacca, which begins very beautifully and gracefully. If the rondo section isn’t as inspired, it still retains the interest, far more than the piano duo work.

There is little audience noise, nor applause at the end of pieces, and the sound quality is very good. The notes, in Polish and English, are most informative.

When I received this, I had reservations because of the problems imposed by the format of a competition. These reservations were compounded, albeit briefly, because the performer details in the booklet stated that the keyboardists were playing the “fortepian”. Mercifully, a very quick listen reassured me that this must be the Polish word for piano, and that they were playing modern grand pianos. With that out of the road, I found myself enjoying this much more than I imagined I would, and I look forward to Volume 2, with works by Lessel and Różycki.

David Barker

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