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Roman MACIEJEWSKI (1910-1987) Transcriptions for Two Pianos – Volume 1 Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582 [12:02] Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
10 Variations in G on a theme by Gluck, K 455 [12:41] Louis-Nicolas CLÉRAMBAULT (1676-1749)
Suite in D minor [15:17] Ignace-Jan PADEREWSKI (1860-1941)
Sarabande in B minor Op 14 No 2 [3:34]
Minuet in G Op 14 No 1 [3:39] Maurice RAVEL (1874-1937) Pavane pour une infant défunte [4:51] Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909) Tango Op 165 No 2 [3:06] Fritz KREISLER (1875-1962)
Katarzyna Rajs/Piotr Kepinski (Pianos)
rec. 2016, Concert Hall of the Ignacy Jan Paderewski Pomeranian Philharmonic in Bydgoszcz, Poland CD ACCORD ACD230-2 [59:03]
After the death of Szymanowski the careers of the next generation of Polish composers were inevitably disrupted to varying degrees and in contrasting circumstances by the German invasion and the start of the Second World War. Some took advantage of continental winds of fashion on the continent, thus Alexandre Tansman, for example, had already relocated to Paris, where Milhaud and Honegger tried to induct him into Les Six. Meanwhile the younger Witold Lutoslawski stayed put in Warsaw, eking out a living in the clubs and bars as one half of a celebrated piano duet, performing arrangements of popular works of the day – probably his most regularly performed work, the Variations on a theme of Paganini, dating from this period.
A parallel case is that of their contemporary Roman Maciejewski (1910-1988), a selection of whose transcriptions for two pianos constitutes this disc from Accord, the ‘Vol 1’ attached to the title presumably announcing the start of a series. I first encountered Maciejewski in the early 1990s via an old Polskie Nagrania recording of his magnum opus, his Requiem (1941-56), a monumental if over-written piece, some of which impressed and even moved me. The excellent notes for this issue touch on Maciejewski’s life’s ambition in writing this work, and imply he sacrificed a lucrative career in Hollywood in order to pursue it.
Indeed, it seems that this composer was reticent in promoting his work and espoused at regular points a kind of Hindemithian ‘gebrauchsmusik’ – the composition of music for utilitarian purposes. These transcriptions seemingly fall into this category, as at the outset of the war Maciejewski also operated as a successful pianist and found himself in Sweden, regularly working in a duo with a now-forgotten English pianist called Martin Penny (a future accompanist for the Philharmonia Chorus). They were clearly highly regarded in 1940s Stockholm music circles – indeed the booklet quotes from a very complimentary review of a 1944 recital.
This pleasingly performed and recorded disc showcases Maciejewski’s ability to transcribe both works of high art (such as Bach’s mighty C minor Passacaglia, BWV 582) and pieces of a lighter, ‘lollipop’ type (e.g. Albeniz’s Tango; Kreisler’s Liebesfreud). Featured in between are Mozart’s 10 Variations in G on the theme ‘Unser dummer pobel meint’ by Gluck (KV 455), a manufactured ‘Suite in D minor’ by Clérambault (a compilation of movements from his two Organ Suites of 1710), the popular Sarabande and Menuet from Paderewski’s Op 14 set of Humoresques and (least successful in my view) Ravel’s Pavane pour une infant défunte – some over-ornate decoration rather defeating its point in this case. Arrangements throughout are thoroughly workmanlike rather than spectacular. The Bach certainly works well for two pianos in this regard and is splendidly performed.
What I suppose a disc like this does is add to the sum of our knowledge of the two-piano repertoire, which if you like that genre is no bad thing. The Polish performers turn in finely co-ordinated performances, especially stirring in the Bach – the real highlight in my view here – and revealing an apt nimbleness and delicacy in the Mozart. The instruments sound good – faithfully recorded in a most helpful acoustic.
It’s far from an unpleasant listen, but frankly, in spite of the best efforts of performers and engineers, the content (with the obvious exception of the Bach) is of insufficient heft for me to repeat the experience too soon. Afficianados of the two-piano repertoire might disagree, of course!