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Miłosz MAGIN (1929-1999)
Andante for Violin and Piano (1963) [6:46]
Concerto No. 3 for Piano, Strings, Timpani, and Percussion (1970) [25:25]
Four Vocalises (1985) (arr. violin and piano) [11:11]
Nostalgie du pays: No. 2 from Miniatures polonaises (1982) [1:57]
Concerto Rustico (No. 1) for Violin, Strings, and Timpani (1975) [19:14]
Stabat Mater for Strings and Timpani (1973) [11:43]
Lucas Debargue (piano); Gidon Kremer (violin)
Kremerata Baltica
rec. Paliesiaus Dvaras, Lithuania, 25-28 February 2019
SONY CLASSICAL 19439870312 [76:23]

Miłosz Magin has primarily been known for his piano performances, especially the music of Chopin. Thanks to the advocacy of pianist Lucas Debargue, who was introduced to Magin’s music by his first piano teacher, the listener may now better judge him as a composer. Except for a few of his piano pieces, this is the first CD readily available devoted entirely to the music of Magin. Based on the works presented here, I am confident that we will be hearing more of him in future.

Magin turned to composition full time after he suffered a car accident in 1963 that ended his career as a concert pianist. His music, while apparently influenced by such leading twentieth-century composers as Bartók and Szymanowski, has a sound of its own. Much of it is highly melodic and once heard not easily forgotten. Only one of the works on this disc is for solo piano, Nostalgie du pays, and has a really catchy tune. It was recorded before by Lívia Rév (Helios), whose quicker tempo convinces, though I find Debargue’s more deliberate one quite appropriate to the title of this programme, “Żal.” This Polish word, which means variously “a feeling of sadness,” “remorse after performing a bad deed,” and “resentment towards someone or something caused by disappointment,” according to the booklet notes, is difficult to render in English. It is not meant to focus on the negative, but “to experience regret, with a hint of wistful longing of that which is lost.” I find that such a short piece as Nostalgie du pays captures the feeling well.
Similarly, the arrangements for violin and piano by Debargue and Gidon Kremer of four Vocalises, which are interspersed on the CD with the longer works, also embody żal.

The Andante is the earliest of the pieces here and is a kind of Romantic reverie with the violin melody over arpeggiated ripples in the piano part suggesting flowing water. Margot Magin, the composer’s daughter, contributes notes on all the works presented and sees the influence of Debussy and Ravel in this piece. I concur with that, but I find Fauré a more prominent forbear in the Vocalises, especially the second and fourth ones. Kremer and Debargue clearly express żal in these pieces, but a warmer tone from the violin would have enhanced these performances. Debargue, for his part, leaves little to be desired.

The three bigger works, however, contain a greater variety of emotions and are the reason that this CD essentially warrants attention. The two concertos here are examples of Magin’s art at its finest. In addition to these, Magin composed a cello concerto, as well as other piano concertos, which have appeared on Polish discs from time to time. To my knowledge, this is the first time the two works here have been recorded together for a major label and thus a cause for celebration. The Piano Concerto No. 3, in five continuous movements, recalls Bartók in its scoring and at times in the rhythmic figuration. It begins boldly with loud piano chords and runs covering the whole keyboard before the strings and timpani enter with declamation and power. The second movement possesses a toccata-like piano part with motoric, Bartókian rhythms and turns jazzy in the virtuosic piano writing. The mood continues in the next movement, beginning with bass drum strokes and a fluid piano part that is sustained before the movement ends quietly leading to a hymn on strings. This fourth movement is quite a contrast with an atmosphere of contemplation and even sadness. It is very moving, containing no piano or percussion for the first three minutes. The harmonic modulations here reminded me a lot of Ravel. The finale, then, bursts in with a toccata-like part in the piano and the work ends rather abruptly with two notes in octaves much like the conclusion to the first movement of Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. Overall, I am really impressed with the concerto, which for me is the highlight of the CD. It deserves to enter the standard repertoire and I cannot imagine it played better than Debargue and Kremerata Baltica perform it.

The Concerto Rustico is a less spiky work than the one for piano and in a more popular vein, formally based on folk dance rhythms. The three-movement structure begins joyously with the violin entering immediately over strings and timpani. There is a chugging accompaniment in the lower strings reminiscent of that in the third movement of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, but also slower, more lyrical passages. Later it becomes a heavy-footed, stomping dance. After the opening subject returns more dramatically than in the beginning, the movement ends on two quiet pizzicato notes. Contrasting with this first movement is an Andantino movement with the violin playing a wistful, melancholy theme over accompanying strings based on the rhythm of a kujawiak, a slow Polish dance. The third movement is also cast in the form of a Polish dance, a lively oberek. The character is light and lively and the main violin theme is quite similar to that in the finale of Korngold’s Violin Concerto. The piece concludes decisively. Kremer is at his usual best, but I could imagine a richer-toned violin making an even stronger impression.

The disc concludes with the sombre Stabat Mater for Strings and Timpani. This is the only piece on the programme that does not feature either soloist. It is a moving work that begins gently on a funereal theme like a prayer. At once soulful and chaste, it also builds to a climax with a rhythmic pattern in the basses punctuated by timpani. The music possesses a beautiful sadness and ends softly on a major chord in the strings. The performance by Kremerata Baltica is impeccable.

This fine album devoted to Milosz Magin’s attractive music should gain the composer many fans. I am in no doubt that we will be hearing more of him.

Leslie Wright

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