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Karol KĄTSKI (1815-1867)
String Quartet No. 1 in D major [26:07]
String Quartet No. 2 in C minor [25:24]
String Quintet in G minor, Op. 26 [23:30]
Tono Quartet
Aleksander Mazanek (double bass)
rec. 2021, Filharmonia Śląska im. H. M. Góreckiego, Katowice, Poland, (Quartets); Kościół św. Jana, Mikołów, Poland (Quintet)

I consider this an extraordinary disc. I choose to review music I do not know, so I often write of music I have heard before by a composer I had never heard of before. I want to be on a permanent learning curve, and it is always a gloriously fascinating journey.

I was born during the second world war. Obviously, war stopped progress on most fronts, so what I grew up seeing and hearing was often “old hat”. An example: on Saturday mornings, the local cinema treated us to Flash Gordon starring Buster Crabbe; I would have been about eight but the 1936 serial was already thirteen years old. Time seemed to have stood still while the world was preoccupied. I had the same feeling as I listened to this music. The string quartets were written in 1862 yet I could not help hearing Haydn, who had died six years before Karol Kątski was born and 53 years before he wrote this music! Is it me, or does it strike others the same way? Please do comment on the MusicWeb International Forum.

In any event, the two quartets are chock-full of wonderful tunes that really sing out. Beautiful melodies really go somewhere and are fully explored, not just left dangling. There is a wonderful feeling of warmth in the music, so it leaves you with a satisfying glow. All the instruments are treated with a pleasing equanimity. The music exploits their potential as well as any chamber music I have ever heard, and I even dare to include Beethoven. I am not making a direct comparison with Haydn’s or Beethoven’s compositions: clearly this music cannot rival their works. Even so, it is not all that far behind, in my humble opinion.

The string quintet is no exception. The opening movement overflows with sumptuous melodies, and the double bass gives the work an even richer sound. The slow second movement is simply beautiful. The scherzo is a joy, and the last movement, which emerges from it organically, is a fitting finale to a gem of a quintet. The piece has everything one could want in a chamber work: musical richness and fabulous, sweet melodies. There is the merest suggestion of pathos but overall, it is a joyous work.

I read in the booklet notes by the label’s owner Jan Jarnicki that he had offered the music to several musicians but failed to entice them to record it, until the Tono Quartet’s leader agreed to do so.  This was not occasioned by any feelings of sympathy for Jan but by a genuine interest in the music which certainly comes across in the spirited playing by all the musicians involved,  including Aleksander Mazanek (in the quintet).  Their obvious enthusiasm is infectious making for a truly enjoyable listen.  If other musicians hear this music I am sure it will change the minds of any who previously rejected it and create an interest and hopefully inspire future recordings and if any of them sound better than this I would be very interested to hear them. I am confident that you will be as delighted that these works have been recorded as Mr Jarnicki was, and as I have been in enjoying them.

Steve Arloff

Previous review: Philip R Buttall

Agnieszka Sawicka (violin), Grzegorz Witek (violin), Beata Raszewska (viola), Łukasz Tudzierz (cello)

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