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Józef WIENIAWSKI (1837-1912)
Piano Works - Volume 5
8 Romances sans paroles pour le piano, Op.14
8 Mazurkas pour le piano, Op.23 (books 1 and 2)
Agnieszka Schulz-Brzyska (piano)
rec. March 2020, Katoliki Uniwersytet Lubleski
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Acte Préalable have been busy in the cause of Józef Wieniawski, brother of the violinist Henry Wieniawski. Indeed Jan Jarnicki, founder of the label, plans to record all of his works and to that end has released nine volumes, including this latest one (links to several reviews can be found at the end of this review). Acte Préalable's diligent efforts mean that just one symphonic disc and some piano releases remain. Previous reviews contain biographical notes and, as other reviewers have pointed out, the notes, in Polish and English, are comprehensive and informative.

After the delights of the other piano volumes, I was looking forward to this one and I am not disappointed. The Romances sans paroles, issued in two books of four pieces each and published in 1869, have elements of Chopin and Mendelssohn and even hints of Adolf von Henselt to whom the collection is dedicated. It is Henselt who I thought of in the first; a simple melody in the left hand under syncopated chords in the right, a feature simliar to that found in a couple of the Henselt études. This little serenade is prefaced by a delicate little four bar phrase that returns to end the piece. Next is a lilting cradle song in F sharp whose main theme contrasts with more reflective themes. The influence is not of Chopin's Berceuse with its unchanging bass line but more the tranquil sections of his Barcarolle or Impromptus. The third is a melancholic song in B minor surrounded by a web of polyphony with hints of other voices fleetingly joining in duet. The last of this first set is most reminiscent of Mendelssohn, its long melody riding over insistent repeated chords in the left hand, an accompaniment maintained throughout its 5 minute length. There is enough variety to please and it certainly reaches grand climaxes along the way.

The similarities to Mendelssohn's Songs without words continue in the next series. A melody accompanied by gently rolling broken chords in the first followed by a jaunty May song. The next is marked In the style of a Ballade but do not think of Chopin's grand creations. This is a relatively restrained piece starting in A minor and I imagine Wieniawski had a troubador's song in mind. He contrasts this with a more optimistic section in the major key. The final piece is the most overtly virtuosic of them all though it is still the melody that is key to the work. Opening with the melody accompanied by rolling arpeggios in the left hand it does not take long for passions to rise and a grand climax and cadenza brings the set to an heroic conclusion.

Like Chopin (and many others) before him, Wieniawski was fond of dance forms and earlier volumes have included his valses, tarantelles and polonaises – more of these will appear on later volumes. He only wrote one set of Mazurkas for piano, though there is an orchestral mazurka in his Suite romantique op.41 and he arranged two of his brother's violin mazurkas for solo piano. Like the romances sans paroles, the eight mazurkas, composed in 1863 and making up his op.23, were published in two books of four. The spirit of Chopin is never far away though these are engaging pieces in their own right. They range in mood from the light-hearted charm of the first to the vigour of the fourth with its distinctive arpeggio call to arms or the mournful simplicity of the third with its bare unison melody. The second is a sinuous waltz while the slow waltz of the fifth has a note of stark despair. The melody is given to the baritone in the seventh which has some of the feel fo Chopin's A minor waltz from op.34. The set closes with an exciting and virtuosic dance that has moments of plaintiveness but they are fleeting, the dance always winding up to its energetic and flamboyant swagger.

I will make no claims for originality of these pieces, especially when the ghosts of early romantic masters hover so closely around but that takes nothing away from what is a collection of enjoyable, melodious, idiomatic and engaging music. Agnieszka Schulz-Brzyska studied with Mieczysław Dawidowicz and later with Kazimierz Gierżod at the Fryderyk Chopin Music Academy in Warsaw. She works as a solist and chamber musician and is dedicated to introducing lesser known Polish composers like Zygmunt Stojowski or Piotr Radko to a wider world, as well as composers local to Lublin, her home town. She impresses in this music with a strong sense of atmosphere and she has a real flair for the dance elements. There seem to be some interesting piano works, as well as his transcriptions of his brother's music and Chopin's Etude op25-11 still to come to roll on volume 6.

Rob Challinor

Previous review: Jonathan Welsh

Reviews of other releases in this series
Piano Works vol. 2
Piano works vol. 4
Chamber works vol. 1
Chamber works vol. 2

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