This new CD amounts to a follow-up, albeit on a different label, to the complete Mazurkas of Maciejewicz ('match-eh-YEH-vitch'), released on a double-disc by Sarton Records in 2011 (review
). Despite the quintessential Polishness of the mazurka - or 'mazurek', to give its more linguistically correct title - Maciejewski's ties with Poland are rather loose. He was born in Berlin, and left Poland for good in 1934, heading first for Paris - to study under Nadia Boulanger, no less - before spending most of his life in the US and especially Sweden, where he died. His music, even the mazurkas, thus has very little in common with that of nominal compatriots like Karłowicz, Szymanowski, Bacewicz or Lutosławski.
The programme opens with the first two of seven transcriptions Maciejewski made of Caprices from Paganini's famous op.1. Well chosen, they are virtuosically entertaining, and by the sound of it great fun for Maciej Łabecki to play. Yet the credit is almost wholly due to Paganini: as Ferdinand David's complete set for Paganini's centenary in 1940 has already shown, the piano does not add all that much. How could it? Unfortunately, no information is given in the booklet as to what drove Maciejewski to do these particular rewrites, nor when he did so - it would have been interesting to know whether or not he inspired, or was inspired by, David's cycle which, as performed by Ossy Renardy, had the distinction of being the first complete recording of the op.1 Caprices in any guise.
There is in fact very little data available on Maciejewski in the public domain - or New Grove, for that matter - a fact which makes the booklet notes all the more valuable, despite this omission. They are informative and indeed reasonably well translated by a non-native into English from the Polish, with just the odd unwittingly humorous slip: "...made him abandon a lucrative career lurking in Hollywood."
Nestled in among the Paganini transcriptions is the meat of the programme, Maciejewski's Violin Sonata and the Notturno
. A case could be made that there is not enough music for violin and piano by the composer to warrant a monograph. Without the Caprices, there would barely be half an hour's worth; even with them, the recording is hardly generous in terms of minutes to the euro. Moreover, the Notturno
is nothing to write home about. It dates, according to New Grove and the Polish Music Center (at University of Southern California), from 1950; the booklet says 1952. The annotator (pianist Elżbieta Tyszecka) finds the work "much reminiscent of the famous nocturnes by John Field and Fryderyk Chopin", but frankly the evidence is threadbare - Maciejewski's Notturno has little in common beyond a very vague 'night time' atmosphere. It is a soulful, at times bleak-running work, but less than compelling. As it happens, the recording is marred slightly by two separate cracking sounds, like someone snapping a twig, at around 4'40 and again right at the end.
The Violin Sonata has much more going for it. Surprisingly perhaps, this is not its first recording, violinist Peter Spissky on the Swedish dB Productions label (dBCD57) having earned that distinction a decade ago. Spissky's version is three minutes faster, although Łabecki and Tyszecka never give the impression that they are dawdling - Maciejewski's rhythmically feisty sonata is not the most subtle of pieces. A curious work in some ways - for example, a 90-seconds-plus piano-only introduction - it is also lyrical, and always on the approachable side of tonality. It ends with tantalising ambiguity. At the very least, the AP recording has the advantage of much clearer sound, but Łabecki and Tyszecka give a convincing performance that only serves to show up the relative blandness of the Notturno
This disc, incidentally, is Tyszecka's sixteenth for AP, a tally which notably includes seven Aleksander Tansman monographs. She does not look too happy about this considerable achievement in her full-page colour photo, it must be said - unless compared, that is, with Stanisław Witkiewicz, whose portrait (as Napoleon Bonaparte!) makes him look rather nefarious. Who is Stanisław Witkiewizc? He was in fact a Polish writer/artist, creator of the artwork that appears on the front cover, for which incongruously he receives the longest biography.
Overall, the collected Mazurkas remain a better, more representative buy for anyone wanting an introduction to Maciejewski's generally attractive music, once admired by Szymanowski. For those with cash to spare, the present disc is not the greatest value for money, but nor would it be a wasted investment.
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