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Raul KOCZALSKI (1885-1948)
Piano Concerto No. 5 in D Major, Op.140 (c.1942) [30:11]
Piano Concerto No. 6 in E major, Op.145 (1945-46) [30:15]
Joanna Ławrynowicz (piano)
Lublin Philharmonic Orchestra/Wojciech Rodek
rec. 2019 Lublin Philharmonic Hall

Previous releases in this series have alerted one to the compositional breadth of the Polish piano virtuoso Raul Koczalski. This third, final volume devoted to his piano concertos charts him toward the end of his career and, indeed, life with concertos composed between c.1942 and 1946. He died two years later.

He was unencumbered by dictate as to fashion. His milieu was comfortable romanticism couched in episodic structures. Yet he was not obviously the glittering romantic showman in these concertos, apportioning himself the power and the glory. His orchestral writing reveals a variety of qualities, from Rachmaninovian colour to paragraphs far more redolent of light music. The musical vertigo induced by what might seem expressive discrepancy is part of the charm of these two rather patchwork concertos. The Fifth, written during the height of the war, allies athleticism with charm, powerful chording with almost tea-shop pertness. The slow movement, where the piano’s oddly perky stalking figures strike a strange note, allows an eventual unfolding of a reflective line, whereas in the scherzo there’s a tussle between Iberian rhythms and solid nineteenth century declamation. But he’s full of surprises. The finale’s theme is not especially distinguished but there is a lovely B section that, in its filmic quality, is most attractive and a sense that some of the writing is so vocalised it could easily be a song transcription. The final peroration, whilst revisiting earlier themes in triumph, does though strike me as perfunctory.

By the time he played the solo role in the Leipzig première of the Sixth Concerto the war was over. Polish critics received the work with open derision, one claiming it was an ‘improvisation written on sheet music’. Clearly so anachronistic a work would face a hard time, for the concerto’s amiability, its ultra-romanticised loquacity, its promotion of the winds, and its rather externalised sense of romantic melancholy must have opened a vast gulf between its nostalgic reverie and recent experience. What I enjoy, however, is precisely Koczalski’s innocent candour and his blithe disregard of conventional form and expectation. The finale of this concerto is a disappointment, though, efficient but workaday.

The notes suggest that Koczalski’s position in the war, during which he remained in Berlin, informed the composition of both works but this contention is not really explored further. It’s hard to tell if there was any greater quotient of nostalgia here than in his previous pre-war works. I tend to think that the quilt-like fabric of these two works corresponds very well to his general compositional preference.

Of the excellence of Joanna Ławrynowicz’s performances – donning the executant-composer’s mantle – there can be no doubt. She has formed a fine collaborative relationship with Wojciech Rodek and the forces of the Lublin Philharmonic and they’ve been well recorded.

Koczalski’s concertos are curious byways in Polish musical history, very personal but not always structurally cohesive commentaries that offer, from time to time, strangely compelling intimacies.

Jonathan Woolf

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