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Ignacy Feliks DOBRZY ŃSKI (1807-1867)
Overture to ‘Monbar, or the Filibusters’, Op.30 (1836-38) [10:44]
Piano Concerto, Op.2 (1824) reconstructed and edited by Krzysztof Baculewski [40:33]
Symphony No.2, Op.15 ‘Characteristic’ (1834 revised 1862) [36:24]
Original slow movement of Symphony No.2 [8:39]
Emilian Madey (piano)
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Łukasz Borowicz
rec. October 2009 and March 2010 (Piano Concerto), Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio, Polish Radio, Warsaw
CHANDOS CHAN 10778(2) [51:26 + 45:12]

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 forces.
 
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 Symphony, given 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 Rossinian accelerando.
 
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.
 
Jonathan Woolf  

See also review by Byzantion

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