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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Quartet Movement (reconstruction by Gerald Abraham) [13.41]
Władysław TARNOWSKI (1836-1878)
Quartet in D Major [17.47]
Zygmunt STOJOWSKI (1870-1946)
Variations and Fugue, Op.6 [12.47]
Eugeniusz MORAWSKI (1876-1948)
String Quartet [20.44]
Tono Quartet
Four Strings Quartet
rec. 2014/19, Sala kameralna, NOSPR, Katowice, Poland

This recording is worth the price for the Wagner alone, but has many riches beyond that. Had I received it earlier, I would certainly have nominated it as one of my Recordings of the Year. I may yet try to sneak it in for 2020.

The underlying conception for the recording is – according to the producer – to include works by composers who produced a single work. But even if that were not the case, Tarnowski, Stojowski and Morawski would be new names for most listeners. So too, the two named quartets performing the works. The Morawski was recorded in 2014 by the Four Strings, the remainder very recently by the Tono. But they are essentially the same quartet: the only difference is the replacement of Lucyna Fiedukiewicz by the young Nikola Frankiewicz as first violin. Both are superb players.

The Wagner quartet movement comes from 1864, composed as a miniature after Wagner’s new and lucrative employment by Ludwig II. It was based on Siegfried, and motifs and mood will be familiar from the Idyll. The Tono Quartet capture beautifully the ebb and flow of Wagner’s inspiration, allowing the music to speak clearly and for itself but with a strong forward motion. Lovely indeed.

Władysław Tarnowski was something of a polymath. As well as studying in Lvov and Krakow, he was a pupil of Auber at the Paris Conservatoire. As well as his work as pianist and composer, he was also a writer and critic, under the pseudonym Ernest Buława. His three plays were produced with his own incidental music and he produced various volumes of poetry. His compositional output consists mainly of songs and works for piano. The String Quartet is marked by tight construction in a classical form. While it pushes no boundaries, the quartet is tuneful, disciplined – nothing prolix here – and immensely attractive.

Zygmunt Stojowski was also a pianist. His tutors, in France and Poland included Paderewski and Delibes. In 1905 he moved to the United States, devoting most of his time to teaching. Many of his works are for piano, but he composed a symphony (Op.21), first performed in 1901. His ‘Variations et Fugue pour deux violons, alto et violoncelle’ is an early work but it is nevertheless not an immature one. It was first performed in 1892. It begins sombrely proclaiming a theme before opening out. Expression is sometimes very emphatic, and there are sombre moments as ideas are developed. It is very rewarding, and there is nothing hesitant in the playing. I have returned to it several times, and with growing admiration.

Eugeniusz Morawski, composer and painter, was unlucky as well as largely unknown. His life was certainly interesting. In 1903, he joined the Revolutionary Faction of the Polish Socialist Party. In 1907 he was arrested as part of a plot to assassinate policemen He spent a year in prison in Warsaw, was then sentenced to four years in Siberia. His father used his influence to change the sentence to emigration, spent principally in Paris. He returned in 1930, devoting his remaining years largely to teaching. He became rector of the State Conservatory of Music from 1932-1939, following a bust-up with Szymanowski, his frequently absent predecessor. The quarrel continued, and Szymanowski’s influence seems to have affected Morawski’s reputation. To add to his musical misfortune, much of Morawski’s work disappeared in the Warsaw Uprising, including three symphonies, two ballets, and six other quartets. His music can be seen as expressionist with a tendency to darker tones. He was deeply critical of contemporaries, such as Ravel, Debussy and Stravinsky, and seems to have been a cantankerous soul (photographs suggest a fearsome manner). But his quartet, in three slowish movements, (Andantino, Andante, Moderato), inspired by three paintings, has a stern dignity as it develops. There are brighter and lighter moments to contrast with overall intensity. Patient listening is certainly rewarding.

Overall then, fascinating music given its weight in admirable performances.

Michael Wilkinson

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