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Władysław ŻELEŃSKI (1837-1921)
Piano Trio in E major Op.22 (pre-1870) [29:14]
Piano Quartet in C minor Op.61 (1909) [35:53]
Trio Lontano
Adrian Stanciu (viola)
Rec. 2020, Concert Hall of the Stanisław Moniuszko Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic, Poland
DUX 1735 [65:36]

2021 marks the 100th anniversary of Żeleński's death and this CD is a welcome addition to the recorded repertoire of this distinguished Polish musician. Władysław Żeleński was born on an estate near to Krakow and spent his formative years there including a period of study at the city's Jagiellonian University. He continued his studies in Prague studying piano with Alexander Dreyschock and composition with Joseph Krejči and then went on to spend time in Paris. His return to Poland brought an academic engagement at the Warsaw Institute of Music and directorship of the Warsaw Music Society before returning to Krakow where he founded the Conservatory of Music, becoming its director and teaching there until his death; Ignaz Jan Paderewski and Zygmunt Stojowski were just two of his celebrated pupils.

These two chamber works share many characteristics; rich romanticism with hints of Brahms, imaginative writing for all the instruments and wonderful textures. The Piano Trio is somewhat programmatic; Żeleński headed each movement with the three parts of the Latin phrase Vivos voco, mortuos plango, fulgura frango, words found at the opening of Friedrich Schiller's poem The Song of the Bell and which translate as I call the living, I mourn the dead, I repel lightning. To what extent Żeleński intended these words to influence the listening experience is difficult to say. The sunny disposition of its opening movement is never in danger of being clouded over and even the more dramatic moments of the development section maintain the drive and vitality. I love the writing towards the end of this section as the piano provides a staccato underlay to the violin and cello's lyrical interplay before suddenly erupting in a cascade of arpeggios accompanied by urgent interjections from the strings. This and indeed all the writing flows so naturally making these a real joy to explore. The mournfulness suggested by the second movement's title never really surfaces; this is music of comfort, solace and fond reminiscence. The beautiful first melody is given to the piano but the cello soon takes over and this is the main meat of this movement, allowing this melody to unfold over texturally varied accompaniments. Even the minor key second theme is more about nostalgia than despair and seems always to return to the major key. While the genial rondo that is the trio's finale has moments of dramatic interplay and lots of virtuoso writing one might perhaps expect more struggle in a movement headed I repel lightning. There is a sense of supreme confidence to the optimistically strident rondo theme; toward the end of the movement there is a more four-square section that soon relaxes into a brief hiatus but this is just taking a breath before the vivacious and vibrant ending.

The Piano Quartet dates from some forty years later and is, for the most part, a much more serious work. The movement has a broad relaxed feel despite the fast tempo; its first theme is played by the piano in octaves against a background that couldn't be sparser. It really only comes into its own as the piano writing heats up and the strings sing it out in unison over grand piano chords. The second theme is more lyrical but even this has a bittersweet quality. The development section features the strings exploring the melody whilst the piano lays the harmonic foundations with its swift figurations, occasionally adding the second theme into the mix. The second movement Romanza features a lovely theme introduced by the cello. The middle section, introduced by the strings alone, is stormy and dramatic with plenty of octaves and dense textures. These two ideas freely interchange – the return of the opening theme gently played by the piano over rippling arpeggios is particularly enchanting. The third movement is a mazurka in all but name. It's rustic theme borrows the augmented 4th from the opening movement's first theme but here it is more a part of the folk-like character of the piece. There is some magical writing here and I love the flashes of fanciful writing that lead into the second theme. An energetic tarantella makes up the finale; after a few minutes of this exciting music declamatory piano octaves bring a halt to proceedings and a jaunty new theme in octaves seems to suggest that a fugue is on the cards but no; though the writing becomes quite polyphonic it is free in its use of the theme. Żeleński's later treatment of this is wonderful; he comes even closer to suggesting a fugue with the ideas of the theme passed between the instruments but soon the theme starts developing little triplet figures as if the tarantelle is trying to break free of the motif's march like restraints. The fast dance does gain precedence and the work ends with a brilliant flourish.

I can heartily recommend this disc for anyone seeking quality new romantic chamber repertoire. Always fresh sounding and idiomatic there is lots of melodic and dramatic appeal. They have both been recorded before; the Trio on Acte Prealable (AP0277) as is the Quartet (AP0237) which also appears on Hyperion CDA67905 (review, review). I have not heard the Acte Prealable recordings but have long enjoyed the version recorded by Jonathan Plowright and members of the Szymanowski Quartet; both they and Trio Lontano are marvellous performances though I am swayed by the lighter touch of the Hyperion performances. This is particularly evident in the Intermezzo where the music dances more effectively. Trio Lontano, formed in 2009, enjoy playing unsung repertoire and have previously recorded works by Ludomir Różycki and Grzegorz Fitelberg. I enjoyed their vibrant performances and certainly make one wonder why these pieces aren't better known.

Rob Challinor

Trio Lontano: Anna Maria Kamińska (piano), Paweł Polak (violin), Grzegorz Vytlacil (cello)

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