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Michał SPISAK (1914-1965)
Piano Suite (1943) [8:43]
Violin Sonata (1946) [16:31]
Concerto for two pianos (1942) [21:26]
Anna Czaicka-Jaklewicz, Łukasz Trepczyński (pianos), Adam Mokrus (violin)
rec. 2017, Concert Hall of the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music, Katowice
DUX 1615 [46:30]

Spisak’s early death at 51 robbed Polish music of a composer of integrity and focused achievement. It wasn’t just his almost exact contemporary Lutosławski who mourned him – he called Spisak a ‘wonderful artist, a flawless man and an incomparable friend’ – but he inspired the slightly older Grażyna Bacewicz to recall his ‘genuine transparency, liveliness and often humour’. Spisak’s teacher Nadia Boulanger noted his virtues adding that he ‘avoided originality at all costs’. These three I think condense Spisak’s virtues: clarity, directness, an absorption of past models, an avoidance of rhetoric and total musical honesty.

The three works here amplify all this. The Piano Suite dates from 1943 and was originally conceived for harpsichord, which would clearly have imparted a Baroque element to the writing though the music’s slightly chic modernity would have sounded – would still sound – tremendously zany on the original instrument. There’s certainly an awareness of jazz elements in the opening movement – Spisak’s humour is dry and droll – though his ability to clarify quiet and pensive material is equally audible in the slow movement. The central section of this five-movement suite resumes the vitality, imparting a French harpsichord feel before Spisak unveils a lovely, plangent Chorale and the toccata brilliance of his Postlude. This suite, full of vivid variety, colour and feeling, was composed in the darkest days of the war.

In 1946 he composed the Violin Sonata. His neo-classicism is a compound of exuberance, lyricism and clarity inspired but not overwhelmed by Stravinsky’s influence. The music’s consonance and polyrhythms show a secure technical mastery whilst the central Andante opens up a direct Polish lineage to Szymanowski. The movement is a repository of colour, its soliloquys earnest and pure, Spisak often taking the soloist high. By contrast the finale is a whirligig of activity, resinous but not brusque and terrifically exciting.

The last work is the Concerto for two pianos composed back in 1942 and dedicated to the memory of his brother. Stravinsky’s work for the same forces had been composed in 1935 and there had been a Polish precedent for the form in the shape of the Concerto for two pianos by Roman Maciejewski. Nevertheless, Spisak makes the form his own in the shape of an Allegro, four variations, and concluding with a double fugue. The variation in sonorities, in articulation and attacks and the plasticity of the material ensure that there is never any muddiness. The music ranges from bitingly brittle to insinuatingly rich and the quasi-orchestral sonorities are stirring. The variations owe an obvious debt, as does the work itself, to Stravinsky, as noted, but Spisak’s use of the Chorale, as in the fourth movement of the Piano Suite, is richly evocative and the double fugue itself is exemplary in its technical unfolding and resilient in form. There are still some quirkily lyric movements even in a six-minute superstructure like this, but this is a fitting summation of Spisak’s eloquence and control in writing for the instrument.

The recorded sound is fine, and the booklet notes concise and helpful. At 46 minutes this is rather short measure, but you might well forgive Dux given that relatively little music by Spisak is easily available and when the performances, and especially that of Anna Czaicka-Jaklewicz, who plays piano throughout, are so adroit and the music itself so compelling.

Jonathan Woolf

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