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Zygmunt STOJOWSKI (1870-1946)
Magdalena Molendowska (soprano)
Julia Samojło (piano)
rec. 2018, Concert Hall of the Oskar Kolberg Świętokrzyska Philharmonic, Poland
Notes in Polish and English, no lyrics
DUX 7580 [62:20]

Many years ago my introduction to Zygmunt Stojowski was Mischa Levitzki's piano roll recording of his delightful Valse op.12 no.2 and shortly after that a 1976 International Piano Archives LP featuring broadcast recordings of Stojowski performing his own compositions and works by Chopin and Paderewski (IPA115 nla). For a long while that was it. More recently his discography has filled out nicely with releases of his concertos, chamber music and solo piano works from Hyperion Records, Acte Prealable and DUX but his songs have escaped attention until now. Dux, in collaboration with soprano Magdalena Molendowska and pianist Julia Samojło present what appears to be his complete extant songs as well as ten selections from his two collections of Polish folk song settings, Chansons Polonais and Memories of Poland. One thing that should be noted straight away is that although the booklet provides notes about all the songs, in Polish and (occasionally unidiomatic) English, there are no texts and no translations. I hoped that there would be at least an internet link to them but there does not appear to be. A quick search on turns up no listing of Stojowski as a song writer and though the words of a few of these songs are given, notably the Adam Asnyk poems, none are in translation. My Polish fails after “good day” and “thank-you” so for the non Polish speaker it would have been nice to know what the songs are about.

Zygmunt Stojowski was born in Krakow in 1870 and after studies with his mother he went on to study under Władysław Żeleński (1837-1921). Paris beckoned and he went to the Sorbonne and the Conservatoire where he studied piano with Louis Diémer (1843-1919) and composition with Léo Delibes (1836-1891); they became so close that Delibes even offered to adopt Stojowski so that he could enter the Prix de Rome which was closed to foreigners. He continued piano studies with his fellow Pole Ignace Paderewski (1860-1941) and went on to a distinguished career as a pianist and composer, forming close friendships with Brahms, Saint-Saens and Tschaikowsky along the way. His songs span the years from 1884 with his earliest effort, written when he was a teenager to Euphonies written in 1922 with its echoes of Fauré and Debussy. After that there are only the folksong collections which appeared between 1927 and 1937.

Of his teenage songs only Tęsknota (longing) is in a finished state; it is a simple melancholy song with a rippling piano accompaniment. The incomplete accompaniment to Szkoda (pity) - 11 bars of missing left hand - is not apparent so presumably has been filled in by Samojło and the bars with missing text in Niegodziwy (wicked) are simply sung as a vocalise so these pleasant little songs can be enjoyed. In the 1890s Stojowski wrote three individual songs and his first song cycle, the 5 Songs Op.11 set to words by Adam Asnyk (a further song cycle is missing). The energetic folk dance of Krakowiak is quite different to the almost Schumann-like À Stella, with its repeated chord accompaniment. The op.11 songs and La Flûte muette are a little more advanced; the hints of impressionism in the latter lie alongside Stojowski's natural tendency to romanticism. It opens with a sparse accompaniment and a sense of hushed uncertainty and ends in a more affirmative mood with a postlude, again much like Schumann. The op.11 songs are more of a collection than a cycle though the notes suggest that nature could be tentatively suggested as a common thread. This very much applies to the first and last of the set; Letni wieczór is an ode to summer evening in the Podhale region, though the mood seems tinged with sadness, a mood that also inhabits the final song of the set Siedzi ptaszek na drzewie despite the chirpy bird trills of the accompaniment. There is a folk-like feel to Wędrowało sobie słonko and Nie będę cię rwała whilst the mournful melody of Ach, jak mi smutno is coloured with exotic intervals and its sadness is reflected in the generally lower tessitura.

In the later grouping of six songs op.33 the settings are of the poetry of Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer who was born in the Podhale region near the Tatra mountains. Here I found the affinities with Fauré even more striking especially in the third song of the set Gdybyś ty była (“if you were an unfathomable lake”) with its repetitive piano figurations representing the gentle lapping of water's surface. As in all these songs the piano has a distinctive voice; Na mej diszy strunach (“on the strings of my soul” if online translation is accurate) has a hypnotic spinning roulade of notes whilst the final song, Niechaj jej niebo świeci blękitnie is accompanied by delicate cascades of arpeggios. Pożegnanie (farewell) op.33 no.5 is a gem, its fragile simplicity creating a heartbreaking bleakness.

In 1927 Stojowski published his first folksong collection, Chansons Polonais comprising 20 settings and he followed it with Memories of Poland, a collection of its best loved melodies, which appeared in 1937, not 1945 as the track listing says. These are wonderfully realised settings and we are treated to seven from the earlier set and three from the later. The piano parts are beautifully done and Stojowski generally makes subtle adjustments to the harmony in later verses. Some are dance-like, Krakowiak for instance or Obertas where the singer imitates the percussion or the bustling Pije Kuba with its exciting piano part full of mocking little discords. Some are more melancholy like Stoi jawor zielony from the later set with a melodic style reminiscent of those found in his original songs. Listening to the delightful A siadajże, siadaj! that rounds off the disc it is a shame that room wasn't found for more of these little treasures.

There are some delicious moments on this disc and I enjoyed it immensely. Stojowski's French training shows through in the touches of impressionism that are present in many of the later songs and if he is slightly more harmonically adventurous in his solo piano music, the Aspirations op.39 from 1913 for example (Hyperion CDA67437 - review), there is much of real interest here. Soprano Magdalena Molendowska has a beautiful voice with lots of emotional strength and delicacy when needed; just listen to the meltingly soft high notes in Mów do mnie jeszcze... from op.33. I was also very taken with pianist Julia Samojło's playing, full of character and wit, sensitive or passionate as the situation demands in what are some demanding accompaniments. there are many beautiful songs and it is gratifying to hear another side of Stojowski's art.

Rob Challinor

Disc contents
Serenada (Asnyk) (1913) [2:22
6 Melodies Op.33 (Przerwa-Tetmajer) (1911) [14:03]
La Flûte muette (René-Hirsch) (1898) [3:28]
Euphonies (Viellé-Griffin) (1922) [3:25]
À Stella (René-Hirsch) (c.1890) [1:38]
5 Songs Op.11 (Asnyk) (1895) [11:12]
Tęsknota (Żmichowska) (1884) [2:21]
Szkoda (Asnyk) (1886) [2:10]
Niegodziwy (Biernacki ֦Rodoć”) (1886) [1:39]
Krakowiak (Wasilewski) (1895) [3:06]
Chansons Polonais selection (1927) [12:32]
Memories of Poland selection (1937) [4:24]

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