Ignacy Dobrzyński studied alongside his almost
exact contemporary, Chopin, in the composition class of Józef
Elsner (1769-1854). Elsner considered them both outstanding students.
Thereafter, though, their careers diverged. Chopin travelled beyond
Poland’s borders whilst Dobrzyński remained in the country,
struggling as a composer - not least when Warsaw was occupied by Russian
This 2-CD set - which sells for the price of one - charts the earlier
part of the composer’s career, with works ranging from 1824 to
1838, albeit one must acknowledge the revision to the Symphony that
was carried out in 1862. One must also face the question of the Piano
Concerto, written when he was just 17, which is heard here in a reconstruction
by composer, musicologist and editor Krzysztof Baculewski. It’s
a good place to start, being the earliest work. The first known performance
of the Concerto was not to take place until 1986 and the first recording
was by Howard Shelley and Sinfonia Varsovia [NIFCCD 101]. The good news
- I think
it’s good news - is that the two performances
enshrine different editions of the work. Shelley’s is heard in
an edition in which the composer cut some sections, mostly in the first
movement. Chandos’s choice of the Baculewski edition ensures that
we go back to the composer’s first thoughts. Those missing passages,
now restored, equal around 7 or 8 minutes’ worth of music.
So much for matters editorial, what does the Concerto sound like? On
the whole a conflation of Hummel and Weber would be about right - the
note writer Adrian Thomas also suggests Field, which sounds right as
well. It’s conjectured that Dobrzyński showed his manuscript
to Chopin and there is something of a shared inheritance or allegiance
in the pretty figuration of the slow movement. The finale is predicated
on that Polish standby, the Krakowiak, and it’s full of geniality.
The cadenza, half-way into the finale, is by the fine soloist, Emilian
Madey. It certainly helps that he is himself a composer of note.
The other major work is the Symphony No.2, the ‘Characteristic’.
It was written for a competition in Vienna, which earned the victorious
work the soubriquet of ‘Competition’ symphony for a while.
But it was revised in 1862 and the composer replaced the slow movement
with one written for his 1841 String Sextet, Op.39. He retained the
title ‘Elegia’ for the movement. Fortunately Chandos has
also recorded the original slow movement and we can listen to the two.
The Symphony opens in arresting fashion - I was reminded for a few seconds
of a kind of Don Giovanni element - but it soon settles attractively
and expertly. The new slow movement introduces an element of chromaticism
into the symphony’s vocabulary, though there is too some evidence
that he had been listening to Rossini amidst the expected strong Polish
dance character. He clearly knew his Pastoral
his chirrups and calls in the Minuet-plus-Mazurka third movement; and
the solo fiddle pirouettes girlishly in response to the blandishments
of the woodwind - nice characterisation. A racy Rondo, based on a song,
reveals chattering winds and, again, Rossinian high spirits. The original
slow movement is rather more elegant than the more dolorous replacement.
Not to be overlooked either is the Overture to ‘Monbar, or the
Filibusters’, Op.30. This is excellently orchestrated and whilst
it’s possible the composer revised it later, the sense of agitato
and drama is strong - as is the easy lyricism and percussion-filled
The performances are good throughout. Some really imaginative conjunctions
(such as the violin/woodwind episode noted above) perhaps serve to highlight
moments of near-routine elsewhere; or maybe the fault lies more with
the composer. There is certainly something of worth here, though it
would be just to note that the compositional value is variable.
See also review by Byzantion