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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
Huberman Duo
rec. 2020, Concert hall of the Bronisław Huberman State Philharmonic of Częstochowa, Poland
DIVINE ART DDA25206 [55:09]

It is usual to regard Szymanowski’s musical aesthetic as progressing from a highly romantic style redolent of Brahms and Reger, through impressionism and expressionism with nods to Debussy and Schoenberg, finally arriving at a style that synthesised modernism with Polish national folkloric material. Christopher Palmer in his 1983 BBC Music Guide to Karol Szymanowski described the Sonata in D minor for violin and piano op. 9 as ‘dull and conventional’ in both form and instrumentation. I cannot accept that this sonata is dull: I can concede a certain conventionality. To be fair to Palmer, the Sonata is written in a traditional late-Romantic style complete with three standard movements.We need to accept that this is an apprentice work, but one that shows considerable promise despite some ‘dim and uninspiring’ critical reactions at the time.

An interesting formal conceit is that all the themes in this work are to some extent related. The first movement is written in sonata form. The two subjects provide a wide emotional contrast, and the opportunity for some thought-provoking dialogue and commentary. For me, a highlight is the beautiful Andante tranquillo e dolce which includes a remarkable pizzicato section as part of a vibrant scherzando passage. The exciting and strong final movement Allegro molto, quasi presto brings the work to a powerful and optimistic conclusion. The balance of the violin and piano was designed to allow both players to display their virtuosity.The Sonata was completed in 1904, when the composer was only 21 years old. It had to wait until 1909 for its premiere performance in Warsaw by Arthur Rubinstein and the violinist Pawel Kochański. This work was dedicated to Bronisław Gromadzki, an amateur violinist and the composer’s school friend.

Andrzej Panufnik’s Trio was composed in 1934, whilst he was studying at the Warsaw Conservatoire. Sadly, the score was destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising. Panufnik was able to reconstruct it from memory during 1944 and then further revised it in 1954.According to the liner notes, some additional alterations were made in 1977. The composer awarded an ‘honorary’ opus number 1 to this Trio: he did not use this nomenclature for his music, so this piece clearly represents something significant in his achievement.

The sound world of the Trio looks back toward Ravel and Debussy, with little suggesting an engagement with modernism. This well-crafted work exudes confidence, emotional feeling, and intellectual design. A largely tonal work, it is constantly pushing at the boundaries.The three movements are a sonata allegro, a ternary song form and a rondo. There is a bluesy feeling about the slow movement, and a kind of neo-classical dancing imbues the finale. There can be little better entry level to Panufnik’s music.

For me, the most important work on this CD is the Sonata No. 4 for violin and piano (1949) by Grażyna Bacewicz. Musically, she was a polymath. Not only a distinguished composer, but also an accomplished pianist and a concert violinist, she carved a major place for herself in 20th century Polish music. In the 1950s she gave up playing the violin to concentrate on composition and teaching.

Stylistically, Bacewicz was a neo-classicist: she was happy to make use of tried and tested musical forms and structures. This does not mean that she eschewed other modes of expression. In fact, there is a heft of neoromanticism in many pages of this Sonata, and nods to Polish folk music here and there. The work has been well described by the composer Stefan Kisielewski as ‘contemporary Brahms’. I think that this analogy does not mean that the work was derivative, but that it held the same significance for 20th century violin music as Brahms’s Sonatas did for the 19th century. The Sonata No.4 was dedicated to Bacewicz’s brother, Kiejstut. It won First Prize at the 1951 Warsaw Festival of Polish Music.

The liner notes by Witold Paprocki, in Polish and translated into English by the pianist on this recording, provide detailed information on the works, their composers, and the musical context.The usual artists’ details are given. The booklet is illustrated with several photographs of the composers and the musicians.

The performance of these three works impressed me. I did not know any of them, so it was a great opportunity for me to discover three noteworthy and well-written pieces. This worthy packaging of three vital Polish chamber works will surely entertain and move the listener.

John France
Magdalena Ziarkowska-Kołacka (violin), Sergei Rysanov (cello), Barbara Karaśkiewicz (piano)

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