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Zygmunt NOSKOWSKI (1846-1909)
Complete Songs - Volume 1
Bogumila Tarasiewicz (mezzo-soprano), Karol Schmidt (piano)
rec. 2016, Concert Hall of Międzynarodowe Centrum Muzyczne “Wschód-Zachód” in Zielona Góra, Poland
The Polish song texts enclosed but no translations

The most famous Polish composer of the 19th century was without doubt Fryderyk Chopin, but he left Poland before he turned 20 and never returned. Stanislaw Moniuszko was nine years younger but he remained in Poland all his life and was instrumental in creating a national Polish opera and develop musical life at large. When he passed away in 1872, it was Zygmunt Noskowski who became one of the most important persons in the country’s music life as organiser, conductor, teacher and composer. His songs were popular during his lifetime but after his death they slowly faded away. The project to record his complete songs, of which this the first volume of three, is deserving and it has come into being not least through the work of Bogumila Tarasiewicz, who has found a number of songs in various libraries. Only a limited number of the songs were published, mostly during the composer’s lifetime, and many of them remain in manuscripts. Others are considered lost. What remains is a total of 76 songs that are recorded here.

The songs with opus numbers are presented in chronological order in the first two volumes, while volume 3 contains the remaining songs, of which some were composed in the 1860s when he was fairly young. Most of the songs are independent works and the coupling with other songs under the same opus number was more for publishing reasons. But his opus 1, Fables, is an integrated unit, maybe not a cycle but a thematically connected suite. What one notices at once is the expressive piano part. It’s the piano that first catches the interest and there are very often surprising turns of the phrase in the piano introduction – and also comments behind the singing. The songs in themselves are also attractive but melodically more anonymous. It’s the piano part that carries the music. Expressive is also the singing of Bogumila Tarasiewicz, but her voice is not intrinsically beautiful, the tone is rather sharp and penetrating and not sufficiently rounded.

If Fables is more a blueprint that promises well for what is to come, the three songs op. 6 already stand out as something more than youthful essays. The first, Two suns, has a melody that catches, and The wish feels very much as a unit, where accompaniment and vocal line are equal partners. This is still more the case with In the evening, which is a great song. Exactly when the various songs were written is not quite clear. It seems though that after Fables and the three songs op. 6, which both are early, there is leap of some years to the isolated Elegiac polonaise, op. 22 no. 3 (where is the rest of op. 22?). Then another leap to My heart breaks in pain, op. 45, whereupon, after an interval of some time, comes a flood of songs from op. 54 up to op. 65 in this volume. And the flood continues in vol. 2 to the very last op. 77. It seems Noskowski had a period like Schumann’s year 1840, but spread over a much longer period.

And there are gems a-plenty amongst this plethora. The polonaise mentioned above is one, My heart breaks in pain, another. The two-part Serenada i Dumka has a beautiful melody and the dumka’s melancholy mood is a fine contrast. Dumka is originally a Ukrainian term, literally meaning ‘thought’ but is also a type of instrumental music employed by for instance Dvorak in his Slavonic dances and in particular his piano trio in E minor, where each of the six movements is a dumka.

I don’t know in what order the songs were recorded, but they were set down during several sessions spread over a full year, and the quality of the singing varies. When we reach the songs op. 58 it seems that Ms Tarasiewicz had a better day than in the beginning of the disc. The tone isn’t as strident as before, more rounded, and end of both songs is beautiful. Then follows In the forest, op. 60, a noble beautiful song cycle which inspires her to some really beautiful pianissimo singing. Some further gems conclude the first disc. Practical, op. 62 no. 2 is great fun and infectiously lively, and the two songs op. 65 are likewise inspired and inspiring. The beautiful Evening’s song goes to my short-list of discoveries.

The singing is a bit uneven, as I have intimated above, but at its best it is fully worthy of some marvellous songs that should, if there is any justice in this world, be more widely known. And I certainly admire Karol Schmidt’s excellent piano playing which is the driving force in all these songs.

Göran Forsling

Bajki (Fables) op. 1 [15:15]
1. No. 1 Stary pies i stary sluga (Old dog and old servant) [1:57]
2. No. 2 Dwa żólwie (Two turtles)[1:46]
3. No. 3 Dzieci i żaby (Kids and frogs) [1:34]
4. No. 4 Zajączek (Little Hare) [3:00]
5. No. 5 Nocni stróże (Night watchman) [2:08]
6. No. 6 Ptaszki w klatce (Birds in a cage) [1:58]
7. No. 8 Kruk i lis (The crow and the fox) [2:52]

Trzy pieśni (Three Songs) op.6 [5:14]
8. No. 1 Dwa slońca (Two suns) [1:38]
9. No. 2 Życenie (The wish) [1:21]
10. No. 3 Wieczorem (In the evening) [2:15]

11. W starym dworku. Polonez elegijny (At the old small manor. Elegiac polonaise) op. 22 No. 3 [2:18]
12. Serce pęka mi z bólu (My heart breaks in pain) op. 45 [2:24]

Serenada i Dumka (Serenade and Dumka) op. 54 [4:13]
13. No. 1 Serenada [2:21]
14. No. 2 Dumka [1:52]

Dwie pieśni (Two Songs) op. 55 [5:50]
15. No. 1 Astry (Asters) [2:51]
16. No. 2 Jestże to prawda (It is the truth) [2:59]

Dwie pieśni (Two Songs) op. 58 [5:42]
17. No. 1 Pożegnanie (Adieu) [2:46]
18. No. 2 Prośba (Request) [2:56]

W lesie (In the forest) op. 60 [11:04]
19. I. Wieczór mglisty, wieczór blady (Foggy evening, pale evening) [3:22]
20. II. Zagubiona w leśnej ciszy (Lost in the forest’s silence) [2:18]
21. III. Aż na skraju tej polany (At the brink of the glade) [2:33]
22. IV. Stoję blada, stoję cicha (I stand pale, I stand silent) [2:51]

Dwie pieśni (Two Songs) op. 61 [4:28]
23. No. 1 Z pielgrzymich piosnek (From pilgrim’s songs) [2:46]
24. No. 2 Krótka rozpacz (Short despair) [1:42]

Trzy pieśni (Three Songs) op. 62 [4:52]
25. No. 1 Smutno (Wistfully) [1:47]
26. No. 2 Praktyczna (Practical) [1:16]
27. No. 3 Z wiosennych strof (From Spring’s verses) [1:49]

Dwie pieśni (Two Songs) op. 65 [3:16]
28. No. 1 Pieśń majowa (May’s song) [1:20]
29. No. 2 Pieśń wieczorna [1:56]

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