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Ignacy Friedman was born in a suburb of Krakow. His initial studies were with Hugo Reimann in Leipzig and it was his time with renowned pedagogue Theodor Leschetizky (1830-1915) which really added the polish and discipline to Friedman's somewhat wayward if stupendous technique. This is how Friedman is best known; the piano virtuoso who gave nearly 3000 concerts in his lifetime and whose recordings still astonish and fascinate. When I started collecting historical recordings as a teenager this richly romantic, stylish virtuoso was one of the first that I came across and I have treasured his recordings ever since. Friedman the composer-pianist springs directly from this; amongst his recordings are several of his short salon miniatures and transcriptions and again from my own experience hearing Elle danse or the Viennese Dances I wanted to hear more and I have though that has not always been easy. I am still surprised that no enterprising record company has fully explored his wonderful compositions and idiomatic transcriptions. I became aware of him as a vocal composer when I read the late Allan Evans wonderful biography (Indiana University Press) and saw all these songs listed among his compositions. Even in this valuable volume they fall by the wayside; I can see no mention of his songs in the text.
I am therefore very grateful to Acte Préalable and the performers on this disc for their enterprise in collecting together his complete vocal output. The songs are presented in opus number order; there is some question as to when most of them were composed with the exception of the published dates of the later songs and poems. Listening through this recital I was surprised on two accounts; firstly that I would not have recognised Friedman as the composer from the solo piano works that I know and secondly that these songs have waited so long to see the light of day. The language is naturally a stumbling block to international appeal, certainly with regard to singers but I am not aware that these songs have any particular foothold in Friedman's native Poland either. They are all very attractive; many here would make welcome additions to a recital programme and I can imagine the lively Krakowiak as an entertaining encore. The earlier songs have stylistic similarities with mid 19th century song and echoes of Tschaikowsky; just try the opening of op.1 no.1 Dlaczegoż teraz nie mogę z Tobą – Why can I not, at this very moment or the second of the set, the delightful Poleciały pieśni moje – Watch my verses fly away. From op.4 on there is more of a Polish feel with elements of folk song creeping in such as the elegant Kwiat po kwieciu – flower by flower or the coaxing Między nami nic nie bylo – there was nought between us in which Szymon Chojnacki captures the suggestion of spoken confidences wonderfully.
There is harmonic development throughout and it is most clearly seen in opp.41 and 55; the open fifths of op.41 no.5 Zawód – Disenchantment that create an almost archaic feel and the whole tone harmony found in op.55 is almost early Debussy especially in the fourth of the set Smutno – sorrowful with its broad melody over a rippling accompaniment. Friedman never really leaves the romantic harmonic world though and even the enigmatic chromatic harmony found in the opening of O przjdż – O come from the four Poems of 1905 only emphasises the moments of stability around them. Other influences creep in; the opening of op.5 no.1 Das Mädchen am Teiche singt – Song of a maiden by the pond could be Mahler and Mussorgsky is echoed in the sparse accompaniment, dissonant interjections and declamatory mood of the third of the four Poems Fragment z˶Kazimierza Wielkiego˝ - excerpt from 'Casimir the Great'. Most of these songs are in Polish, setting texts by established Polish poets and some of Friedman's contemporaries though the three songs of op.5 are in German, setting words by Otto Julius Bierbaum and the final song, the soothing and contemplative Folkevise – folksong, was published in Norwegian.
The general impression here is of wonderful melodiousness and beautifully imaginative accompaniments that are integrated seamlessly with the vocal lines. Szymon Chojnacki sings the majority of these songs and I am impressed with his sound and his flexibility; he shapes the melodies very well and finds contrast where it is needed such as in the humour of Kinderlied – a children's rhyme which ends Once we're all dizzy as hell we fall down and lay there...he will fall onto their nose who the longest nose has – not the most idiomatic translation perhaps but clear enough. Soprano Şen Acar appears in just six songs and if her voice does not have the richness of Chojnacki's it is still attractive and works well in a song such as Wiosenne rano – Spring morning from op.25 that allows her to explore her higher register. Jakub Tchorzewski provides excellent support throughout and the balance between singers and piano is perfect. The booklet has an informative essay in English and Polish and texts and translations of all the songs. All in all a welcome and entertaining release that hopefully will spark some interest in these enchanting songs. I also hope that Acte Préalable will decide to tackle Friedman's piano output and his idiomatic transcriptions.
Contents Three Songs Op.1 [5:29] Krakowiak Op.3 [2:08] Three Songs Op.4 [5:15] Three Songs Op.5 [6:15] Two Songs Op.17 [3:36] Two Songs Op.23 [4:08] Three Songs Op.25 [5:56] Three Songs Op.35 [7:05] Five Songs Op.41 [10:44] Four Songs Op.55 [8:27] Four Poems (1905) [11:03] Three Songs (1910) [7:02] Folkevise - folksong (1917) [2:13]