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Wiktor ŁABUŃSKI (1895-1974)
Complete Piano Works
Sławomir Dobrzański (piano)
Magdalena Prejsnar (piano secondo)
rec. 1-3 October 2019, Państwowa Szkoła Muzyczna, Lubaczów, Poland.

Wiktor Łabuński was born in St Petersburg and studied at the Conservatory there, but grew up in a family that held onto its Polish language while based in Russia. The Bolshevik revolution in 1918 saw him relocating to Poland where he made a reputation as a piano virtuoso. He emigrated to the United States in 1928, giving his Carnegie Hall debut in December of that year.

Composition wasn’t Łabuński’s main source of income, but was clearly an activity close to his heart. All of his student work was destroyed during the October Revolution, but earlier pieces such as the Władco serc or Rustic Dance betray some well-defined influences, that particular piece being an homage to Paderewski. Mazurek has something of a Chopinesque atmosphere in its regretful reminiscence, and Prokofiev, one of his fellow musicians at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, can be heard in the two Impromptus. A fierce pianistic virtuosity shines through in the Toccata, and while many of these pieces are relatively brief the impression left is by no means that of a superficial miniaturist at work.
Łabuński was by no means an experimental or avant-garde composer, which may be a reason his work became forgotten in the mid 20th century, but nor did he cling onto a particularly antiquated idiom. His music from the 1950s such as the five movements in Patterns has an edge that hints at Bartók; always with a clarity of progressional logic that appeals to the intellect, as well as a wide range of expressive content. The booklet notes point out “that the romantic piano repertoire which Łabuński performed so often seems to have no influence on his compositional language.” There are some gorgeous atmospheres, rollicking fun and superbly expressed folk-music style in the Six Piano Pieces, perhaps even a touch of jazz in the final Frivolous Passacaglia, and these two collections are reckoned to be the pinnacle of Łabuński’s achievements as a piano composer.

The inventive Łatwe Utwory is a set of four easy pieces for children, though the final Toccatina doesn’t sound easy at all. The lively Four Variations on a Theme by Paganini also has some educational intent, and received an award from the Society of American Musicians. Highlights toward the end of the programme are the pieces for two pianos: Poem, with its lovely if at times slightly sinister dreamlike moods, and Nocturne, which by contrast opens with almost cinematic imagery, and comes closest to anything high-Romantic as anything else in this recording. The final piece, Krakowiak is only present by grace of its having been arranged for two pianos by Łabuński. It makes for a rousing conclusion, but has no real claim to be great music.

Well recorded and played with panache by Sławomir Dobrzański, this is worthwhile documentation of a musician who deserves to be remembered. Wiktor Łabuński was clearly a talented composer with his own style and plenty to say, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for this label’s tireless campaign to bring us music that goes way beyond the core repertoire.

Dominy Clements

Władco serc (1918) [2:52]
Mazurek [1:54]
Impromptu no. 2 (1925) [2:18]
Toccata (1923) [3:26]
Impromptu (1922) [1:17]
Rigaudon (1927) [2:09]
Menuet (1928) [4:39]
Reminiscence (1928) [1:58]
Patterns (1950s) [7:07]
Six Piano Pieces (1950s)[11:54]
Łatwe Utwory. Four Easy Pieces [3:02]
Children at Play [1:05]
Humoresque [1:47]
Etude in A minor (pub. 1937) [1:46]
Four Variations on a Theme by Paganini (1943) [2:35]
Rustic Dance (revised version, 1966) [3:09]
Poem for two pianos (1950s) [3:55]
Nocturne for two pianos (1950s) [9:54]
Krakowiak from Orchestral Suite op. 47 by Władysław Żeleński (arranged for 2 pianos by Wiktor Łabuński) [3:12]

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