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Kratkowski Piano3 AP0536
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Roman STATKOWSKI (1859-1925)
Piano Works 3
Krakowiak-RÍverie op. 23 no. 2 in G major [5:02]
Oberek op. 22 no. 4 in E flat major [2:25]
Dumka [4:28]
4 Mazurkas op. 24 [14:27]
Nieśmiertelniki op.19 - Books I and II [23:22]
Krakowiak op. 23 no. 4 in F minor [3:30]
Anna Paras (piano)
rec. December 2021, Filharmonia Koszalińska, Koszalin, Poland.
First recordings
ACTE PR…ALABLE AP0536 [53:21]

Although I’ve reviewed a good number of discs from the highly-enterprising Acte Prťalable label, and discovered many composers – mainly Polish – whom I’d not heard of before, Roman Statkowski is a new name to add to the collection. Surprisingly, this present CD is the third volume in the series and so I was keen to check out volumes 1 and 2 first. I couldn’t find any review of volume 1, but my MWI colleague Jonathan Woolf had penned a very positive review of volume 2, back in 2009.

Statkowski was born in Szczypiorno in 1859, near the central-Polish city of Kalisz. Initially he trained as a lawyer, left the profession in favour of a musical career, studying with Władysław Żeleński in Warsaw, and then at the St. Petersburg Conservatory with Nikolai Soloviev and Anton Rubinstein, graduating at the age of 31 in 1890. After his studies, he lived for a while in Kyiv, where he taught at a music school, then back to Moscow, to his estate in Volhynia. After his estate was subsequently confiscated, he travelled through Europe, only to return to Moscow in 1899, where he took up the position of director of the Warsaw branch of piano-dealer, Herman & Grossman. In 1909, he was appointed to succeed Zygmunt Noskowski as professor of composition at the Warsaw Conservatory, until his death in 1925. Statkowski’s chief musical influences were mainly Russian, particularly Mussorgsky and Tchaikovsky, but he was also attracted to German composers like Richard Strauss, for his tone poems, and Hans Pfitzner for his operas. Statkowski’s work has been described as linking composers after Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) with the generation of Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937). Anna Paras has provided the sleeve notes, which are particularly helpful and informative, given that she is also the pianist on the CD.

The disc opens with Krakowiak-RÍverie op. 23 no. 2 in G major. If you know your Krakowiak from your Cracovienne, you will probably be expecting a fast, syncopated Polish dance in duple time, rather like the bravura examples in Chopin’s works. But, and as Ms Paras points out, the clue is in the second half of the title – RÍverie. Even though, she informs us, Statkowski often tended to avoid ‘vivid’ titles in dances, on this occasion he clearly wanted to highlight the dreamy atmosphere with its lyrical melody at the start, and at various other places during the piece, However, the episodic design still allows for a considerable amount of contrast, and nowhere more so than in the passionate, full-blooded section in E flat around three minutes in, or the quite ethereal reprise of the opening with its almost music-box effect. While the opening could indeed be taken for the start of any pastoral miniature by a like-minded composer, there are still some krakowiak-attributes present, even if they appear somewhat subtly disguised in what, for me, were five minutes of pure listening bliss.

In its original form, the Oberek is the fastest of the Five National Dances of Poland, the other four comprising the Polonez, Mazur, Kujawiak, and Krakowiak. The Oberek consists of quick steps and constant spins, which is hardly surprising since the name is derived from the Polish word ‘to spin’. According to the sleeve-note, the Oberek op. 22 no. 4 in E flat that follows is a ‘perfect example of stylized folk music’. Here in its ‘concert’ format, the whirlwind turns and spins mentioned above, have now become far more graceful, with a middle section marked dolce (sweetly), which, with its remote change of key to B major, greatly enhances the mood of the piece as a whole,, culminating in another charming little miniature ‘ŗ la Chopin’, who had died ten years before Statkowski was born.

The original Ukrainian Dumka literally means ‘thought’ and, as such, is typified by its thoughtful and melancholic character. The opening of Statkowski’s Dumka is full of melancholic yearning in B minor, where there are definite hints of Tchaikovsky in the writing. The middle section of his ternary design ABA1 moves into the tonic major key, and assumes the form of a joyful dance. However, the gloominess of the opening returns, now with a gently-undulating left-hand, which adds some further variety. The middle section then makes the briefest of returns, and the Dumka closes seemingly with a ray of hope, in the major key.

Anna Paras then plays 4 Mazurkas op. 24, which she describes as a ‘perfect example of Statkowski’s fascination with Chopin’s work’. Of all the Polish stylized dances, the mazurka is, without doubt, the one most associated with Chopin, who contributed some fifty-seven examples of this triple-meter dance, with a lively tempo, and where its character is mostly defined by placing accents on the second and third beat respectively.

Op. 24 opens with No 1 in E minor, and is marked semplice (simply), which very much sums up what we hear in the outer sections. This does recall the style of Chopin, even down to the occasional use of the mordent – a rapid alternation of a note with the note immediately below or above it, an ornament that prevailed extensively in Baroque harpsichord music, but in Chopin’s (and Statkowski’s) hands, it is used more as a gentle embellishment, rather than to give ‘bite’ to a particular note – ‘biting’ being its literal meaning. Returning to Mazurka No 1, it’s almost as if Statkowski is suddenly on steroids in the middle section, Vivace con fuoco (Lively and with fire), which the composer notates as if in C major, but where B flats, especially in the left hand, still figure prominently.

This, of course, is not an error on the composer’s part, but the calculated use of modal harmony and modal scales, which are indigenous to folk/ethnic music. Simply-put, it’s using the notes of the scale of F, but where the home note is still C, not F – today’s jazz players would recognise it as ‘C Mixolydian’, acknowledging the former modal system which was replaced by today’s major and minor scales, around 1600.

Be that as it may, the stylistic changes the composer brings to this middle section definitely are worth commenting on. For here, Statkowski also cranks up the volume, as well as the virtuosic nature of the writing, with frequent octave passages especially for the left-hand, and full, rich chords in the right. The opening calm then resumes and persists virtually to the close, only to be momentarily interrupted by a single tonic chord in both hands, marked ff.

Mazurka No 2 (Moderato, ma non troppo) retains minor tonality (F minor), and opens equally wistfully, like No 1. In similar fashion its lively middle section, marked Animato, is decidedly bolder and heroic-sounding, once more making significant use of octave passages, and rich, full chords as it unfolds. The gentle, unruffled texture of the opening returns, and, on this occasion, the composer elects to go for an even quieter ppp ending.

Mazurka No 3 is once more in the minor key of A, and is marked Animato. From the outset this is a much livelier affair altogether, even if the home tonality is still minor. On this occasion, Statkowski introduces two independent episodes, the first in F major, which involves some interesting modulations and passages of chromatic harmony. The second episode is in the tonic major (A), preceded by a brief return to the opening, which, as its tempo-marking suggests – Molto piý vivo, con fuoco – not only revives the spirits once more, but also challenges the pianist somewhat more, before reaching its tongue-in-cheek, yet still effective final cadence.

The final Mazurka, No 4 in G flat major, is the first in a major key, and marked Con moto non tanto. It has an eight-bar introduction, and, with its distinctly good-humoured melody, would probably be the closest example to ‘salon’ music in the set, especially as there is a degree more bravura in the writing overall. An enharmonic modulation, where G flat morphs into the identical-sounding F sharp, introduces a more expressive section in D major – in theory a remote key from the tonic, (G flat) – after which the opening key resumes, and takes the listener happily on to the four closing bars, marked meno mosso and pp – ‘slower and very quiet’. What a charming little set of four miniatures that would certainly grace any recital programme, irrespective of context.

Statkowski’s Nieśmiertelniki (Immortelles) op. 19 were published in two books, each one containing four miniatures. According to Ms Paras these small pieces are ‘rich in beautiful melodies, harmonic turns and musical ‘sighs’ – each one represents an individual story, a sort of memory, or one of the composer’s fleeting thoughts’. She goes on to compare them with another set of piano miniatures, Leoš JanŠček’s Po zarostlem chodnicku (‘On an Overgrown Path’) – a larger cycle of fifteen pieces in two volumes which, like Statkowski, build into an emotional tale – an intimate, reflective and poetic statement by each composer respectively. Ms Paras explains that the pieces she has recorded here, are only part of the whole set of Immortelles, as, unfortunately, many of the composer’s manuscripts had been destroyed in Warsaw during World War II.

Book I opens with a wistful Allegretto un poco rubato in C minor, with a slower middle section in F, which contains a passionate outpouring before returning to the serenity of the opening, and a consoling tierce de Picardie major-chord finish. Moderato is also cast in plaintive mode, in A flat, and, like No 1, similarly has an emotional ‘moment’ in the middle. The composer’s harmonic palette includes some especially-attractive chromatic colouring at times. The opening of No 3 in C sharp minor – Andante quasi adagio – is somewhat lugubrious, and features an ostinato figure in the left hand. There is a chordal middle section in the relative major, but with no hint of any implied upturn in emotion. The return of the original material seems to hint at something more dramatic to come, but which never does materialize. Stylistically No 3 seems more indebted to Chopin, and the dark, bare harmonies of, for example, his …tude Op 10 No 6 in E flat minor. Book 1 closes with No 4 in C, marked Lento ma non troppo, con molta delicatezza, which glances more in the direction of Scriabin and Rachmaninov than, say, Chopin on this occasion – simply-crafted, but so effective and easy on the ear.

Book II opens with an Allegro tempestuoso in F sharp minor, and certainly lives up to its ‘tempestuous’ marking, even if, at 1:14, it’s the shortest track on the CD. No 2 in E flat major is actually only thirty seconds longer, but still manages to pack a fair amount of pent-up emotion into a short time-frame, and where some of the composer’s chord juxtapositions and fascinating harmonic twists and turns are a delight to listen to. No 3 – Con moto giusto in B has an almost improvised feel to it at the start, but as the music unfolds, and moves through some minor tonalities, once again Statkowski shows his abundant skill in preparing for a big climax, and then allowing the music to rest, as it returns to its original shape – rather like serving up a succulent cut of meat. The final piece of the set, an Andantino in E flat minor, is particularly moving, yet without being overly emotional, perhaps more in the Chopin vein once more, but certainly a fitting ending to Statkowski’s delightful two volumes of Immortelles.

While the CD might appear on paper to end where it started, with a second Krakowiak, the present example, op. 23 no. 4 in F minor, is a completely different animal from the Krakowiak-RÍverie heard at the start. There is nothing dreamlike about the final piece, marked Animato e molto energico, which, according to Anna Paras is quintessentially Polish in character – ‘aquiline rhythms’, she refers to, no doubt alluding to the country’s most recognisable symbol – the eagle.

Ms Paras points out that the pieces on the CD are ‘without the slightest amount of kitsch’, and I would certainly agree with her. Indeed, if we were to compare the piano works of one of Statkowski’s more illustrious contemporaries – fellow-Pole Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925) – a fair amount of them are textbook examples of ‘salon’ music – very cleverly written to achieve maximum effect in performance, and highly entertaining for the listener and pianist alike. Anna Paras also comments that she believes that Statkowski’s music has been ‘poorly promoted’. From the evidence available, the Acte Prťalable label has three complete volumes of his piano music, and one of his music for violin and piano in its catalogue. There can’t be many other completely unknown or forgotten Polish composers outside their homeland, who can boast four CDs to their name with one company, as well as one more disc on another Polish label.

The performances by Anna Paras are excellent throughout, and she clearly has real empathy with the composer’s music, and the period in which it was conceived. The piano sound is faithfully captured on disc, and while Statkowski is never going to be a household name, at home or abroad, it is very refreshing to be able to become acquainted with the music of Polish composers working quite soon after Chopin’s untimely demise, rather than those writing before him, who would have had some input in his unique stylistic development.

Just over fifty minutes spent in the company of Roman Statkowski and Anna Paras was far from being any kind of hardship, and if, like me, you’re sold on Romantic piano music from composers with especially challenging surnames, then this new CD is well worth auditioning – and Statkowski is certainly one of the easier names to get your tongue around.

Philip R Buttall

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