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Polish Songs
World Premiere Recording (Palester)
Bernadeta Sonnleitner (mezzo-soprano), Jakub Tchorzewski (piano)
rec. Sala Koncertowa im. K. Pendereckiego, Zespól Szkól muzycznych im. Oskara Kolberga w Radomiu, August 2014
Sung texts with English and Italian translations enclosed

Polish songs pop up every now and then on records but are rarely heard in recitals. As with Nordic songs it is, I suppose, a question of language, and I know Polish is an even more difficult language to learn – and pronounce – than Swedish and Norwegian for most West-Europeans. At least Chopin’s songs exist in good German translations (by Max Kalbeck) and some years ago baritone Konrad Jarnot issued a disc with all his nineteen songs exemplarily sung. Not long after that Naxos issued the songs in the original Polish with Olga Pasichnyk and she offered a bonus: four out of twelve mazurkas by Chopin arranged by the famous soprano Pauline Viardot. Both discs can be wholeheartedly recommended. Karlowicz, who died at the tender age of 33 in an accident in the Tatra mountains, wrote 22 songs, most of them in 1895-96. All 22 are on a CD with Jadwiga Rappé and some of them are also available on various collections.

Chopin’s songs are attractive to listen to but can hardly be counted as masterworks. They were composed over a period of 18 years and never published during his lifetime. The four items on this disc are fairly representative, and sung as sensitively as here they are easy to like. The last of the four, Leaves are falling, stands out from the rest as deeper, more serious and more artistic.

I have come to like the Karlowicz songs, having reviewed several of them on various occasions. They are melodious and stylistically reminiscent of his near-contemporaneous Rachmaninov. The lively Rust-coloured leaves fall from the trees (tr. 7) is fresh and stirring and The enchanted princess (tr. 9) is dramatic and powerful with an important piano part.

With Szymanowski we are on the threshold of modernism. His harmonic language is more daring and the piano part is not only an accompaniment but an independent part of the composition. The mini-cycle recorded here consists of settings of three poems by Jan Kasprowicz, written as “a call of despair after the loss of his beloved wife”. The poems are deeply moving and Szymanowski’s settings are congenial to the poems, dark and brooding. The third song is more inward and lighter in tone to begin with but the pain returns and the cycle ends in utter sorrow. This is music that grabs you by the throat and it is deeply engaging in the reading by these two excellent musicians.

Kazimiera Illakowiczówna’s collection Children’s Rhymes inspired several Polish composers. Szymanowski composed one of his best song cycles in 1922-23 based on some of those poems, and a few years later, in 1930, Roman Palester utilized some of them in his Three Songs. His music is quite different from Szymanowski’s: humoristic, ironic, playful – Poulenc could have been an inspiration. These are actually first recordings.

Lutoslawski also set poems from Children’s Rhymes but avoided those that Szymanowski has employed. Four of the five songs were dedicated to Nadia Boulanger on her 70th birthday. This cycle, composed in 1957, is one of the first compositions where he adopts the twelve-tone technique. It is a fascinating group of songs, where he sometimes is graphically descriptive. Winter (tr. 18) is sparse and icy – one can hear drops of cold water – and the Church bells (tr. 20) can be heard in the accompaniment.

Panufnik, who settled in the UK in 1954 wrote Dreamscape in 1977 for his friends Meriel and Peter Dickinson. It is a long vocalise, where the composer leaves to the singer the choice of vowels and also the phrasing. He also uses quarter tones to express as many emotions as possible. The piano part is very advanced and the composition spans feelings from dreamy inwardness of great beauty to hysteria. Dreamscape also exists in a version for cello and piano. Bernadeta Sonnleitner has a beautiful mezzo-soprano with a quick agreeable vibrato. She is a sensitive nuanced artist and she has power for the more dramatic moments. When she engages the over-drive for the hysterical part of Dreamscape she is tremendous. Jakub Tchorzewski is a superb pianist.

This varied programme is highly interesting and should be heard by everyone with an interest in 20th century vocal music.

Göran Forsling

Track Listing
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810 – 1849)
1. Piosnka litewska, Op.74 No.16 [2:21]
2. Melodia, Op.74 No.9 [2:21]
3. Posel Op.74 No. 7 [2:40]
4. Leci liście z drzewa Op.74 No.17 [4:59]
Mieczyslaw KARLOWICZ (1876 – 1909)
5. Idzie na pola Op.3 No.3 [1:11]
6. Po szerokim morzu Op.3 No.9 [1:42]
7. Rdzawe liście [1:02]
8. Mów do mnie jeszcze Op.3 No.1 [1:49]
9. Zaczarowana królewna Op.3 No.10 [2:29]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882 – 1937)
Trzy fragment z poematów Jana Kasprowicza Op. 5 [18:49]
10. I. Święty Boże [7:10]
11. II. Jestem I placzę [6:01]
12. III. Moja pieśń wieczorna [5:38]
Roman PALESTER (1907 – 1989)
Trzy pieśni do slów Kazimiery Illakowiczówny [6:09]*
13. I. Żólta pieśń [2:14]
14. II. Gil i sroka [1:06]
15. III. Jak sięnajlepiej opędzać od szerszenia [2:59]
Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913 – 1994)
Pięć pieśni do slów Kazimiery Illakowiczówny [10:16]
16. I. Morze [2:56]
17. II. Wiatr [1:08]
18. III. Zima [2:42]
19. IV. Rycerze [1:36]
20. V. Dzwony cerkiewne [1:54]
Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914 – 1991)
21. Dreamscape [10:42]



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