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The Stanisław Moniuszko International Competition of Polish Music 2019 – Volume 2
Franciszek LESSEL (c. 1780-1838)
String Quartet No. 8 in B flat major, op. 19 – III. Menuetto; IV. Finale (1824) [8:35]
Piano Trio in E major, op. 5 (ca 1806) [17:03]
Ludomir RÓŻYCKI (1883-1953)
Italia for solo piano, op. 50 (1923) [16:50]
Rhapsody for piano trio, op. 33 (1913) [10:58]
Piano Quintet in C minor, op. 35 (1913) – I. Lento; II. Adagio [25:09]
Ătma Quartet
Cuore Piano Trio
Michał Dziewior (piano)
Apeiron Trio
Septem Quintet
rec. 2019, Concert Hall of the Artur Malawski Podkarpacka Philharmonic, Rzeszów, Poland
DUX 1654 [78:38]

This is the second volume of this series that I’ve reviewed. I remarked in the earlier one (Volume 5) that since it is the recording of a competition, you aren’t guaranteed to get full works. In this case, both the Lessel quartet and the Różycki quintet are incomplete, the former missing its first half, the latter its finale.

If you’ve read the review of the Competition Winners volume of this series (Volume 6), you will have seen that the Ătma Quartet was among them. It is an ensemble with one recording under its belt already – 20th century Polish quartets on CD Accord – and so the assured playing is not surprising. Mind you, there were instances where the timbre of the violins wasn’t all that one might have wanted, which regular readers will know is a bugbear of mine. The work is very Haydnesque - unsurprising as Lessel was a pupil - but sadly it lacks the inspiration of the “father of the string quartet”.

The other Lessel work is played by the Cuore Piano Trio, whose acquaintance I made on the other volume. They participated in the finals, but didn’t win an award, which rather surprises me. I feel they make a very good case for the work, which was also written during his time in Vienna, studying with Haydn. It isn’t an unsung masterpiece, but does have its moments, especially in the Rondo finale. Anyone who enjoys the trios of Haydn and Mozart should seek this out. There is one other recording (CD Accord ACD269) which I haven’t heard, but I doubt will be any better than this.

More so than the previous volume, this collection illustrates another weakness of the format. There is a full century between the two composers, and a world of difference in styles. Różycki was a protégé of Richard Strauss, and a friend of Karol Szymanowski, and consequently his idiom is late-Romantic, very intense, perfumed almost, and a seismic shift from the genteel Lessel works. Fortunately, the producers of the recording placed Italia, a suite for solo piano, immediately after the Lessel works, and the elegiac Ave Maria that opens it helps move the listener across the yawning divide between the two styles. Had it been the Rhapsody or the Quintet next, then it would have been very hard to bridge the gap. The work uses themes from an opera about Beatrice Cenci, an infamous Roman noblewoman who murdered her abusive father, that Różycki was working on at the time. It is not an era of piano music that I’m especially familiar with, but I quite enjoyed it. I did get a sense of Debussyian impressionism throughout. The final movement is the most intense, shot through with dissonance, a consequence of it telling the story of Beatrice’s execution. It sits rather uneasily with the earlier movements.

With the Rhapsody and Piano Quintet, we are deep in late-Romantic territory. Both works appeared on an Acte Prealable release and our reviewer was most enthusiastic about them (review). There was a higher profile recording of the Quintet on Hyperion a few years later and this time a different reviewer was fairly disparaging (review). He cited the problem frequently associated with lower-rank composers: stretching the musical material too far. As far as the Quintet is concerned, I tend to side with the latter – each movement starts off promisingly but then a lack of invention results in the music drifting, and the attention wavering. I’m afraid this hasn’t prompted me to seek out the full work. The Rhapsody is less affected by this problem, as it is able to pack all of the ideas into eleven minutes, though I don’t think I will able to remember any of its melodies tomorrow.

The booklet notes are, as with the other volume, very informative and well-written. The sound quality is good, though the two Różycki chamber works do become a little congested, but that is probably as much to do with the music itself.

The stylistic chasm between these two composers made this a somewhat problematic listening experience. I’d suggest it is probably better to do it in two sessions.

David Barker

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