Roman STATKOWSKI (1859-1925)
Works for Violin and Piano
Feuilles d’album op. 32 [6:45]
Alla Cracovienne op. 7 [5:02]
Trois Pièces op. 17 [15:00]
Trois Mazurkas op. 8 [11:55]
Deux Pièces op. 34 [7:00]
Natan Dondalski (violin)
Anna Paras (piano)
rec. December 2021, Filharmonia Koszalińska, Koszalin, Poland
ACTE PRÉALABLE AP0537 [49:15]
A short while ago, I first encountered Roman Statkowski, who was then just another new Polish surname for me, when I reviewed the third volume of his piano works, on the Acte Préalable label. I was particularly impressed with what I heard at the time, and was delighted to see that Anna Paras, the most impressive pianist on the earlier CD, was joined here by violinist Natan Dondalski, who has also written the informative CD notes, as Ms Paras had done, earlier.
Statkowski was born in Szczypiorno in 1859, near the central-Polish city of Kalisz. Initially he trained as a lawyer, but 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). Despite being witness to the changes and the birth of new trends in music during the first half of the twentieth century, Statkowski was a composer who remained faithful to the romantic style throughout. His tribute to the traditions and musical forms of Romanticism – never really venturing far from his comfort-zone – still allowed his talent to gain favour with Karol Szymanowski, who was well-known for his somewhat harsh approach towards composers still sympathizing with the musical style of an earlier epoch. While Statkowski’s orchestral and chamber-music output includes a Symphony Fantasy in D minor, and six string quartets respectively, in terms of his works for solo piano, or violin and piano, are either standalone miniatures like Dumka, or grouped into small sets like Trois Mazurkas, or Deux Feuilles d'album.
Because of this, it would be quite easy to dismiss them out of hand, because, unlike in his chamber or orchestral works, the composer has no academic formal restraints to get bogged down with. Equally, they would fit snugly into the realms of ‘salon music’ – popular in Europe during the nineteenth century and comprising pieces in Romantic style which are usually either fairly short, and display a significant amount of virtuosity, or compositions of an emotional, or sentimental nature. On the evidence of Statkowski’s music heard on the present disc, or the earlier CD reviewed above, I would liken his music for piano, and for violin and piano, as a small collection of individually-crafted tiny jewels, rather than the more garish kind of imitation costume jewellery, like some of the more ostentatious, yet eminently entertaining examples of ‘salon music’ which his contemporaries were producing, to the sheer delight of those patrons fortunate enough to be invited to attend the kind of musical soirée which was all the rage at the time, especially in Paris.
I don’t think many of us would dispute Natan Dondalski when he says that Roman Statkowski’s violin works have almost been completely forgotten, except, perhaps for two charming little miniatures – Krakowiak and Dumka, respectively. He opens his account with the Feuilles d’album op. 32, two delightful little miniatures with rather intriguing titles. The first, marked À une blonde, is a short, song-like number in G major, performed at a Moderato tempo. Despite my obvious affection for this kind music – which some may well describe as decadent – I still loved it, and couldn’t stop myself spontaneously uttering ‘Aah’, when it ended. À une brune is some three-times longer, slower, and in the minor tonality of B. Due to its greater length, it has an extended middle section, where the use of triplets in the piano creates a far greater feeling for onward movement, and more impassioned writing, before coming to a close in the tonic major key.
Alla Cracovienne op. 7 is, apparently Statkowski’s most popular violin miniature, which comes as little surprise once you’ve heard it. Marked Allegretto grazioso e poco vivace, it’s a catchy, spritely little dance with immediate appeal. Set in the key of D major, there is a calmer, more yearning middle section in F sharp minor (Meno mosso), but the dance’s duple measure persists to the very note, producing an ending full of pizazz from both players.
Trois Pièces op. 17 opens with a Romance marked Andante quasi Adagio, in triple metre, which keeps to the well-tried ternary design (ABA), with the outer parts in D flat major, and a slightly faster middle section, Poco più mosso ma sostenuto. The return of the opening is an effective piece of writing, where the composer’s telling use of arpeggios in the piano part mimics the sound of a harp. Dondalski suggests that the second piece – a Sérénade marked Moderato, a jaunty dance in 3/8 time, conjures up the world of Spanish ‘salon’ piece composer, Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908). A more extended work, it manages to incorporate a main section in E major, a slower, contrasting Meno mosso in E minor, a reprise of the opening, and finally a Vivace coda, to give another little attractive miniature a good ending.
The final piece, Élégie, inhabits the nostalgic, elegiac world of Tchaikovsky. Marked Andante, in the key of D minor, the piano supports the expressive violin cantilena above, creating an almost organ-like texture. The tempo increases somewhat, as the key shifts into F major, where the piano’s slightly-undulating, syncopated chords in the right hand inject a little extra movement into the proceedings. This gradually builds up further, when the key changes again to A major, for an impassioned Allegro section, where the violin is mainly concerned, initially, with octave double-stops, which Dondalski despatches with consummate ease. A long molto rit. leads back to a reprise of the opening, where the piano is now far more involved in the texture, with its semiquaver (sixteenth-note) figurations, and arpeggios, which re-invoke the use of violin octaves, by way of fortifying the melodic line. However, the composer chooses to let all the passion and emotion gently dissipate, as the music comes to its untroubled, pianissimo close.
Next come the Trois Mazurkas op. 8, a series of three miniatures dedicated to violinist/conductor Emil Młynarski, and pianist/composer Michał Józefowicz. Statkowski would most surely have been inspired by Chopin’s Mazurkas, as is very apparent in the first of the set – Con fuoco e vivace in G minor. Five, no-nonsense, unaccompanied bars from the violin, consisting of double-stoppings over a dominant pedal (D), lead into the brisk, and characteristic main theme, which then introduce a slower, and much suaver Trio in E flat. But the spirit of the opening soon returns, out of which the composer fashions a business-like ending, rounded off with an almost-obligatory pizzicato four-string chord. Statkowski does occasionally nod in the direction of polymetry, when he occasionally juxtaposes a bar (measure) in 2/4 with one in 3/4.
The second Mazurka similarly opens with a four-bar introduction from the solo violin, after which follows a lively dance, marked Allegro scherzando. There is frequent emphasis on the second beat of the bar, and while there is a slightly slower section towards the middle, it doesn’t really count as a standalone Trio as such. There is a noticeable increase in the difficulty of some of the violin writing, particularly with regards the use of double-stops, but which Dondalska, once more, simply makes light work of. Even if the close is taken straight from the ‘Salon-Music Handbook’, I still love it, each and every time I hear it.
The third of the set, in A minor, has proved elusive, in terms of getting sight of the score, unlike the first two examples. Its opening is far more melancholy in character, slower, and dispenses with any form of solo violin introduction. However, within those confines, it still manages to blossom and flourish, and by the time it has reached an exciting, one-in-bar section in E major alternating with C sharp minor, the writing is full of bravura for both instruments. This, of course, eventually calms down, to prepare for the customary reprise of the opening material, and where Statkowski relies on violin double-stops, as before, largely to give the melody-line greater projection. Whether it’s because it’s the last of the set, the composer really does go to town here in the coda, creating a truly exciting close, that’s almost guaranteed to to elicit a standing ovation from the audience. As a measure of their importance, Dondalski points out that these three decidedly-virtuosic miniatures constitute a valuable addition to violin repertoire per se.
The Dumka is the only other stand-alone piece on the CD, and a virtual sine qua non inclusion as far as discs of Polish or Russian music are concerned. It’s a musical term introduced from the Ukrainian language, with cognates in other Slavic languages, and literally means ‘thought’, and is therefore somewhat brooding or melancholic in character. As with the third Mazurka above, the musical score has again proved elusive, but suffice it to say, Statkowski’s Dumka follows a fairly familiar structural plan. The violin sings out its opening cantilena melody, over a lightly-syncopated accompaniment from the piano, This is very much in the realms of Tchaikovsky’s modus operandi in his own instrumental miniatures. The opening is in A minor, but the tempo speeds up quite considerably, to introduce a much brisker section, strongly reminiscent of a Cossack dance in full flow, which starts out in the relative major (C). But the composer, by dint of a nifty little chromatic sidestep, soon brings everything back to the sentiment of the start, and the return of the violin’s poignant melody.
However, the composer does have a little surprise in store. The next episode is in the tonic major (A), but the composer clearly uses a quintuple metre, which he groups in 2+3, with the accent on beats one and three respectively. Many European folk and traditional repertories feature quintuple meter, and this is particularly true of Slavic lands. The Bulgarian paidushko dance, for example, is in a fast five, counted 2+3, as Statkowski’s example here. In north-eastern Poland, five-beat bars are frequently found in wedding songs, though with a slower tempo and not generally accompanied by dancing. In Statkowski’s Dumka, the five-beat pattern comes to a gentle close, once more, ushering in the final reprise of the violin’s opening melody. On this occasion, the composer treats the melody canonically, where the piano imitates the violin, though not in any strict text-book fashion. This then leads to a simple and decidedly understated close, which seems to leave the listener expecting just a few bars more.
The CD closes with Deux Pièces op.34, dedicated to a certain Monsieur Stanisław Barcewicz, a noted Polish violinist, conductor and teacher, who was especially esteemed for his interpretations of works by Henryk Wieniawski and Felix Mendelssohn. The first piece of op. 34 is entitled Triste Berceuse, and, like the Dumka, no musical score is readily available to peruse. As the name suggests, it’s an especially sad lullaby, in the key of G minor, perhaps mourning the loss of a child. It is presented simply enough by the violin, and then reprised with some subtle, yet effective minor chord-changes in the piano part. This leads to the middle section in the relative major (B flat major), which brings with it some happier moments. But these are short-lived, and a little bit of musical dialogue between the two players, leads to the return of the opening minor-melody, now given out by the piano, while the violin uses a motif from the transition, to provide a somewhat more lugubrious counter-melody. The ‘triste’ mood is, however, soon re-established, and the Berceuse ends as it began, from the emotional standpoint.
The second piece from op. 34, and the last item on the disc, takes us back to the composer’s homeland with a traditional Oberek, a lively Polish dance also called obertas or ober. Oberek is derived from ‘obracać się, which, in the vernacular, means ‘to spin’. It consists of many dance-lifts and jumps, and is performed at a much quicker pace than the Polish waltz. Bearing the tempo marking Con anima, and in the string-friendly key of D major, the violin enters after an eight-bar piano introduction. The first section closes, and the music modulates to the key of G major, for a calmer interlude initially of more sustained legato playing, to which, Statkowski soon introduces some double-stopping mainly involving the open D string, which somewhat suggests the ethnic sound of the folk-fiddle, especially given the piano’s dance-like accompaniment below. This soon returns to the key and spirit of the opening, although the composer has upped the ante slightly, by substituting con fuoco for the original con anima – with ‘fire’, rather than just ‘spirit’. From here on in, it’s a race to the end, the winning-post comes into view, as both performers rush headlong to the work’s exciting fortissimo finish – hopefully, with another well-deserved standing ovation from the audience.
The Acte Préalable label could not have found two better-qualified artists to promote the real talent, and genuinely attractive music of Roman Statkowski than Natan Dondalski and Anna Paras. Not only do both artists possess a finely-honed technique, but they also play from the heart. They appear totally sympathetic to the composer’s style, which helps to produce such a taut ensemble, as well as such an emotionally-charged reading, all of which has been so faithfully captured by the fine recording.
In a short preface at the start of the CD booklet, the label’s founder – Jan Jarnicki – writes: ‘I hope that this revival of Statkowski’s violin music will be appreciated by music lovers, and will encourage musicians to include these works in their repertoire.’ I wholeheartedly concur with his sentiments, and am glad to have the opportunity to try to bring these neglected works, and composers, to as large a listening public as possible. They just don’t deserve to lie dormant, unloved, and forgotten forever.
Philip R Buttall