Antoni Kątski (1816-1899)
Romances and Songs
Magdalena Molendowska (soprano), Donata Zuliani (mezzo-soprano)
Anna Mikolon (piano)
Anna Sawicka (cello)
rec. 2021, Studio Koncertowe im.J.Hajduna Radio Gdańsk, Poland
Sung texts and English translations enclosed
Reviewed as download from press preview
ACTE PRÉALABLE AP0534 
One of the pleasures with reviewing is to explore unknown composers and repertoire – and often finding little gems that one wants to return to in one’s leisure time. This also happened with the present disc. I suspect most readers will be as unfamiliar with Antoni Kątski as I was, so I will provide a thumbnail biography of him.
He was born in Kraków in Poland, a few years younger than his more famous compatriot Chopin, and died just before the turn of the last century in Ivanczyce in Ukraine. He was born into a reasonably well-to-do family and he and his musical siblings learnt to play at an early age. Antoni made his first public appearance in 1821 at the age of five. And from 1822 he studied in Warsaw at the same time as he toured Poland. Between 1824 and 1826 he studied with Beethoven. Later he studied in Moscow with John Field and later in Vienna with Thalberg. He settled in Paris in 1836 and became friends with Cherubini, Rossini, Auber and Halevy. In 1845 he had a joint concert with Chopin and was then since long an established piano virtuoso. For several years he devoted himself to teaching, he lived in Spain and Portugal, later for several years in St Petersburg, London and from 1883 until 1897 in the US, whereupon he moved to Warsaw. He also composed more than 400 works, mostly for piano solo, but also two piano concertos, some chamber music and a large number of songs. He toured the whole world and was as a virtuoso in the same league as Chopin, Thalberg and Liszt, in his lifetime many of his works were published, today they are almost totally forgotten.
It’s only during the last few years that some of his works have come to light, through the efforts of Jan A. Jarnicki, artistic director and producer of the present disc and numerous other Acte Préalable productions. He turned to the excellent pianist Anna Mikolon, who has an impressive discography on Acte Préalable, and asked her to find suitable singers who were fluent in Russian, since most of the songs were in Russian. The result is here, recorded in the autumn of last year (2021). I have to say that I immediately fell in love with the songs.
The poems primarily deal with human relations. It’s tempting to call them love songs, but there are few that are happy. Unrequited love, fear, sorry, longing – there are many aspects of human relations. But most of all I became fond of the melodies. The opening mazurka, for instance, is really catchy, and despite the Russian text it is so typically Polish. Two of the songs are in French. Mes Adieux (My farewell) is a setting of a poem by the composer himself, (a bit strange that he should write in a foreign language, but of course he lived in Paris for several years) and the melody is one of the most beautiful. The other French language poem, J’ai perdu mon Coeur (I lost my heart) was written by Alexandre Dumas, presumably “fils”, who wrote some poetry in his youth, before he concentrated on the stage. The waltz My enchantress has a charming melody which doesn’t rhyme with the text, the theme of which is fright, fear and almost panic. The poet begs: My enchantress, get away from me, don’t kill me! Lullaby (tr. 9) is beautiful and Marsha’s song (tr. 10) lively and charming. The following No, not you with cello and piano is also beautiful, and Anna Sawicka plays well.
In I know it’s my destiny (tr. 14) he quotes Chopin’s waltz op. 64 No. 2 in the interludes, and even elsewhere one can hear that his famous compatriot is sitting on his shoulder. Another mazurka, Wenn du mich liebst (tr. 15) is a setting of a German text, which further underlines his cosmopolitan background, which also the concluding song, Dream of Love, to an English text, does. There is also a single Polish text, one in Italian and Ave Maria in Latin to show his internationalism further.
The musical and textual material is, therefore, well catered for. I am afraid, though, that the singing leaves a lot more to be wished. Mezzo-soprano Donata Zuliani has an extensive international career and also teaches singing, but on this hearing, she doesn’t live up to expectations. Her tone is hooty and hollow, and intonation falters frequently. It may have to do with her lack of a natural vibrato, which normally masks minor deviations in the pitch. On the credit side it has to be said that her low register is quite impressive, which she demonstrates amply in My enchantress (tr. 8).
Her colleague, soprano Magdalena Molendowska, has also enjoyed an international career, which has taken her as far as the Glyndebourne Festival, and she manages better, even though there are caveats also here. Her tone is vibrant, occasionally excessively so, verging on wobbly, but her intonation is secure, and she is expressive to a degree her colleague cannot supply. To be sure, the more I listened to her the more I could accept her vibrancy and relish in her readings. Anna Mikolon, whom I have appreciates in a couple of previous discs on this label, is an utterly reliable accompanist.
I am fully aware of that this is an affair of the heart for the producer and others involved, I liked the songs, and I would have loved to recommend the disc unreservedly, but I also have a responsibility towards the readers, and the most diplomatic I can say is: every review is subjective, and others may be more tolerant than I am. So, try to sample before buying.
1. Я люблю сидеть одна (I like to sit alone) – mazurka no. 1 [2:40]
2. Сквозь слёзы я смотрю на свет (Through my tears I look into the light) no. 2 [1:59]
3. Сокол (Falcon) no. 3 [4:36]
4. Чёрные твои глаза (Black your eyes) no. 4 [2:07]
5. Кого то нет, кого то жаль (Some are not, some are sorry) no. 5 [3:24]
6. Mes Adieux (My farewell) no. 6 [2:25]
7. J’ai perdu mon cœur (I lost my heart) no. 7 [2:23]
8. Чародейка моя (My enchantress) no. 8 [5:22]
9. Баюшки-баю (Lullaby) no. 9 [4:32]
10. Песня Маши (Masha’s song) no. 10 [2:03]
11. Нет, не тебя.. (No, not you...) no. 11 [5:21]
12. Прелестный друг, не уезжай (Lovely friend, don’t go away) no. 12 [3:22]
13. При виде тебя (At the sight of you) no. 13 [3:17]
14. Знать судьба моя такая (I know it’s my destiny) no. 14 [2:28]
15. Wenn du mich liebst (If you love me) – mazurka no. 15 [3:09]
16. Что будет со мною, не знаю (What will happen to me, I don’t know) no. 16 [2:00]
17. Приди ко мне, когда грущу я (Come to me when I am sad) no. 17 [3:05]
18. Не плачь, не плачь, моё дитя (Don’t cry, don’t cry, my child) no. 18 [2:23]
19. О не гляди мой друг вперёд (O don’t look ahead my friend) no. 19 [3:50]
20. Бал на льду (A ball on ice) – mazurka no. 20 [2:07]
21. Ave Maria [2:49]
22. Mnie tylko żal ciebie (I only feel sorry for you). Dumka [2:16]
23. L’inconstant – Cangio d’amor (The fickle – Love song) [3:01]
24. Dream of Love [3:15]