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20th Century Polish Chamber Music
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Sonata in D minor for Violin and Piano Op 9 (1904) [21.14]
Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Piano Trio Op 1 (1934) [14.52]
Grażyna BACEWICZ (1909-1969)
Sonata No 4 for Violin and Piano (1949) [18.45]
Huberman Piano Trio and Duo (Magdalena Ziarkowska-Kołacka (violin), Sergei Rysanov (cello), Barbara Karaśkiewicz (piano)
rec. February 2019, Concert Hall of the Bronislaw Huberman State Philharmonic, Poland
DIVINE ART DDA25206 [55.09]

Here, we are treated to three outstanding and, in the UK anyway, little-known performers tackling three fine works by their own countrymen, and a real opportunity to hear these pieces played to the highest standard; just the thing to allow you to ‘get your teeth’ into this somewhat rare repertoire.

The only work, however, for all three is Panufnik’s Opus 1 his Piano Trio. In his autobiography ‘Composing Myself’ (Methuen, London 1987) he describes the work as “my first serious achievement”. The original score, first performed in 1936, was destroyed in the terrible Warsaw bombardment but he reconstructed it in 1945 and again, when living quietly in Twickenham, where I was pleased to meet him, in 1977; this is the version we hear. There are three movements but what especially struck me is the jazz influence. It was, surprisingly you might think, his discovery of jazz which enabled and inspired him to return to a musical training after he had been dismissed as “unmusical” when he was twelve! From the very first chord of the added 11th (I think that’s what I heard) and even on hearing the samba rhythms, it seems that jazz has been distilled into the whole work even including the short, elegiac Largo. There is some good work here for the cellist Sergei Rysanov. The dancing presto however seems to point to the composer of the future and the combination of the major and minor third within a chord, also heard in Jazz and Blues, becomes a Panufnik fingerprint.

At the time that Panufnik was a student in Warsaw, Karol Szymanowski was a major influence on Polish musical life, although their compositional styles are so contrasting. Szymanowski’s Violin Sonata in D minor is an early work and is in a full-blooded Romantic style. In fact, the composer came really to resent its success and refused to play it years after, promising to write a second sonata but never living long enough to do so. Anyway, this one falls into three quite classical movements. The first, being the longest, is in sonata form but with a rather wayward recapitulation. The second is a real gem; it falls into three sections with the outer ones tugging on the heartstrings but with a middle section which is oddly spikey and pizzicato. The turbulent finale, marked ‘Allegro molto, quasi presto’, is again in an adapted sonata design and offers much virtuosity. Now, this proved to be my first encounter with this fine work so I cannot make any comparisons, but it seems to me that Violinist Magdalena Ziarkowska-Kolacka and pianist Barbara Karaskiewicz totally inhabit the piece and are aided by a brilliant recording.

Grażyna Bacewicz was, as noted in Witold Paprocki’s ideal booklet essay, a fine performer both on the piano and violin from as early as seven. It is not surprising, then, that she composed five violin sonatas. This Sonata No 4 is considered the best of them. It falls into four movements and there is always a hint of the neo-classical style she cultivated in the 1930’s as in the First String Quartet, and of the folkloric style which came quite naturally to her and which the Polish authorities required in the years immediately following the Second World War, and which resulted in her receiving several state awards. One can detect modality and dance-like rhythms in the first and fourth movements mixed in with more complex harmonies and compound rhythms. In addition, it is very much a bravura piece and has some quite hair-raising passages for both performers. The third movement Scherzo described as “puppet-style”, is informed by both of these aspects, but the Andante second movement is expressive and at times, quite impassioned. The performance is magnificent and it is difficult to believe that it could be bettered.

I have mentioned the booklet essay which is accompanied by black and white portrait photos of the composers and colour ones of the performers alongside the usual rather dull biographical information. The recordings have a close but rich and velvety quality. This is well worth investing in.

Gary Higginson

Previous review: John France

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