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Józef WIENIAWSKI (1837-1912)
Complete Chamber Works - Volume 2
Piano Trio in G major, Op. 40 [31:08]
Violin Sonata in D major, Op. 24 [39:49]
Allegro de Sonate in G minor, for violin and piano, Op. 2 [8:28]
Nikola Frankiewicz, Iwona Kalinowska-Grohs (violin)
Łukasz Tudzierz (cello)
Szczepan Kończal, Barbara Pakura (piano)
rec. 2015-18, Akademia Muzyczna, Sala im. Szabelskiego & POSM II st. im. K. Szymanowskiego, Katowice, Poland

I recently reviewed the first volume of this series devoted to the chamber music of Józef Wieniawski. Back in 2016, I also reviewed a CD of music for violin and piano which happened to feature two of the works on this disc. Both reviews give background on the composer, so there is no need to replicate this here. It may, however, be best to note that (notably to violinists or afficionados of violin music) the surname Wieniawski might conjure up such works as the Polonaise de concert, Op. 4, Légende in G minor, Op. 17, or a violin concerto. That would be violinist Henryk Wieniawski rather than his slightly younger brother, pianist and fellow-composer Józef.

Volume 2 opens with the Piano Trio, Op. 40, first mentioned in 1885. As with the String Quartet, which began volume 1, Polish critics were not too impressed with the Trio. They had already been very impressed with the Cello Sonata, as well as the similar work for violin, which appears here on the second disc, and so were initially full of anticipation for the Trio.

This fully-fledged four-movement work opens with an Allegro. While there are attractive moments, which often imbue the movement with more of the trappings of a piece of salon music, there does not really seem sufficient substance or motivic development to keep the listener fully absorbed for the whole of its eleven or so minutes. Perhaps just a little judicious pruning would not have gone amiss. The second movement – marked Andante molto cantabile – is more interesting, despite its simple design; a melody of some poignancy is introduced first by the cello, and passed to the violin for further comment and embellishment. A far more turbulent section takes over, though still based on the opening melody. The opening calm returns, now in a major key, as the music builds up to a passionate climax, heightened by a significant increase in tempo. This subsides, and leads to a reprise of the opening, the piano this time playing the melody in tinkling upper-register chords, while the strings weave their counterpoint underneath, and the movement calmly comes to rest, a model of peaceful repose.

The Scherzo is marked Allegro con fuoco. There is certainly fire in the music, and in the three players’ spirited performance. It sounds almost Brahmsian at times, in terms of Wieniawski’s use of occasional cross-rhythms and melodic outlines, though some of the chord juxtapositions give it some added spice, especially at final cadence points. The smooth lines of the ‘Trio’ – not designated as such – make a fine contrast, and the composer’s use of texture and timbre is significantly more compelling than anything the first movement had to offer. The Scherzo returns, and Wieniawski really sounds now as if he is having a fun time, both with his harmonies and rhythms. The gentler ‘Trio’ section returns in a new key before the music accelerates towards the close. The end, when it does come, is a master-stroke of ingenuity, essentially straight from the salon. If this were the end of the Trio as such, it would no doubt guarantee cheers, unbridled applause, and even, perhaps, a standing ovation. For all its mere four and a half minutes, it is an impressive movement in its own right, and a joy and real fun to listen to.

The Finale – Allegro risoluto e non troppo presto – starts rather bizarrely with two separate chords, followed by four more in quick succession, which soon leads into the main theme – a graceful little tune announced firstly on the violin. Cast as a kind of modified sonata-rondo form, the second theme, with its far more broadly-sweeping melody, appears first in the relative minor (E minor), and then returns later in the tonic minor (G minor). But it does not feel right that this otherwise basically happy movement will end sadly, and a faster coda returns to whisk us on our way to a happy and joyful outcome in G major. The hand of a true craftsman is clearly evident throughout, and, had the opening movement just been a tad more concise, this could have put Wieniawski’s Piano Trio right up there with his Cello and Violin Sonatas.

Despite the key of the Violin Sonata, Op. 24 given as D major, it most definitely is not. Both the first and last movements, which you would normally expect to be in the home key, are clearly in the tonic minor, D minor, which the key signature of one flat confirms. In fact the major key signature appears only just at the end with the maestoso (majestic) coda of some sixty bars or so. It is no big deal, but by far the majority of references to the work cite the key as being D minor. Wieniawski completed the work in 1866, but returned to it in 1883 to make some corrections. Interestingly, one of these was to shorten the first movement – if only he had thought of doing the same with the piano trio.

From the outset, Iwona Kalinowska-Grohs (violin) and Barbara Pakura (piano) are right on top of the composer’s tempo marking of Allegro con anima – ‘lively’, though never short on anima either (an Italian term that can mean both ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’). In fact if you ever set out to persuade listeners to discover a new work, or neglected composer, rule one should certainly be to engage the finest performers available to promote it. Acte Préalable has very much achieved that here.

The slow movement is suitably-entitled Andante religioso, and opens with the piano singing out its simple yet sincere and heartfelt melody. The violin then gets an opportunity to bring its own delicate elaborations to the table, before the roles are reversed in the subsequent reprise. The music builds to an effective and passionate climax, before returning to the calm of the opening. The Scherzo – Allegro molto vivace e giojoso – has a little questioning start, but launches right into sprightly little one-in-a-bar waltz that clearly looks to the Polish countryside and its people for inspiration, one of those almost Chopinesque miniatures that Wieniawski excelled at. Again not shown as such, the ‘Trio’ contrasts its smoother sustained lines with the busy figurations of the Scherzo, and manages this with a nice key-step from F major to the more mellow strains of D flat major. This, too, builds towards what might be described as a ‘mini-climax’, before the brisk strains of the Scherzo are heard once more. Even now, Wieniawski briefly revisits the ‘trio’ section, after which the Scherzo returns, this time seemingly to dance on tiptoe right up to the movement’s hushed ppp close.

If you needed any more convincing that the Sonata’s home key is D minor, not major, then the Finale – Allegro appassionato ma non troppo presto – should ultimately convince you. The piano introduces the work’s passionate and troubled main theme, before the violin is given a chance to comment. The piano leads on to the next section, where the more chromatic nature of the writing keeps the listener on their toes. This in turn leads to one of those melodies – here marked cantando – that you just will wanr heard again, with all guns blazing, in the work’s final moments. Again there is a sense of shifting chromaticism in the writing, just before Wieniawski, the more academic of the two brothers, launches into a fugue. Sometimes similar contrapuntal intrusions can have a negative effect when it seems as if they have been intercalated merely to confirm the composer’s academic prowess. This is certainly not the case here, and the way Wieniawski slips from the fugue back to a reprise of the Finale’s turbulent opening is truly seamless. The slow cantando theme reappears and leads to a short, accompanied cadenza for the violin, which also provides some display opportunities for the piano. Then, while there does not appear to be any cyclic tendencies in the work as such, the composer rather surprisingly slots in a short reprise of the jaunty little tune heard back in the Scherzo. This in turn leads to the final restatement of the first theme, still firmly embedded in D minor, before Wieniawski starts the long and immensely effective wind up to the closing section; it is exactly as predicted, a massively impressive maestoso (majestic) version of the cantando theme, at last with the key signature well and truly confirming its arrival in the tonic major, D. The violin gets the tune, while the piano embellishes it with solid chords across the keyboard, as if imitating a triumphant peal of bells, virtually right to the very end. Kalinowska-Grohs and Pakura certainly give of their all in the most moving performance of such an impressive work, and one which, hopefully will be heard more often on the concert platform in the fullness of time.

The last piece of Volume 2 is actually another example of collaboration between the two Wieniawski brothers, such as we saw in Volume 1, with the Grand Duo Polonais for violin and piano. By chance the performers were the duo just heard here in the Violin Sonata. Whether, perhaps, the violinist felt more at home in the Sonata, any slight reservations I might have had then with the Duo Polonais, simply do not apply on this occasion.

The opening – a short unaccompanied violin cadenza, marked maestoso – leads to a Presto where the violin gives out the main theme, which later involves an exciting passage of triple, and quadruple stopping for the instrument. Contrasting material is introduced, with further passages of virtuosic display, again mainly for the violin – violinist, Henryk, was, after all, two years his brother’s senior here. Again the assurance in the performance from both players is very clear, and each deals with the respective demands and technical difficulties with true expertise and real panache.

I am extremely partial to music by Wieniawski – written by either of the brothers – so, on a personal level, I feel greatly indebted to the Acte Préalable label for making it better known to the listening public in general.

There has always been something truly uplifting and spirited in the Polish psyche, and this new Wieniawski CD portrays it efficiently through the medium of music. With such lovely music, good performances, excellent recording, and a most informative glossy CD brochure, what’s not to like?

Philip R Buttall

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