Thursday 1 October 2015

A valuable new release of piano works by the Polish composer Roman Statkowski played by Barbara Karaśkiewicz on a new release from Divine Art

Composer and teacher, Roman Statkowski (1859-1925) was born in Szczypiórno near Kalisz, Poland.  He was born into a musical family, studying piano from an early age, but gave up music for law studies at the University of Warsaw. However, he soon gave up his law studies in order to enter Warsaw's Music Institute (now the Warsaw Conservatory) to study composition under Władysław Żeleński. He later moved to St. Petersburg where he studied composition with Nicolai Solovjov and instrumentation with Nicolai Rimski-Korsakov at the St. Petersburg Conservatory. After obtaining his diploma he travelled to Germany and Belgium before returning to St. Petersburg where he worked at an agency of the Warsaw Herman & Grossman piano storehouse.

In 1903 Statkowski won the first prize for his opera Filenis at an international competition in London. A year later in Warsaw he won the first prize for his opera, Maria. The opera was first staged in Warsaw in 1906 to favourable reviews and remained popular thereafter.  He was respected by his fellow composers but his style was considered more conservative than the neo-Romanticism evident in the works of Szymanowski, Karłowicz, Różycki and Fitelberg. In 1904 he became a professor at the Warsaw Conservatory, initially teaching the history of music and aesthetics but later the composition class. Statkowski composed several symphonic works, six string quartets, some violin pieces and nearly sixty piano works, many inspired by Polish dance traditions.  

It is a number of these piano works that pianist Barbara Karaśkiewicz has recorded on a new release for Divine Art Recordings

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Statkowski’s lively Toccata, Op. 33 is played with a fine light touch by Karaśkiewicz with moments of much virtuosity in the broader passage that follows. The lively opening returns but it is the broader theme that takes the music to the coda.

Six Preludes, Op.37 take the listener through a wide range of moods with a slow thoughtful opening to No. 1 in C major through a livelier moment before returning to its gentler nature. No. 2 in A minor is quite volatile with a fine forward rolling drama before No. 3 in G major picks up on the forward rolling movement though with a much gentler quality.

Forceful chords open No. 4 in E minor before the music rushes forward, concluding with a calmer coda. No. 5 in D Major has a most affecting little opening before the music slowly finds its way forward with more lovely moments before the end. There is a lovely, lightly dancing No. 6 in B minor with Karaśkiewicz bringing a lovely lift to the music before it broadens and richens as it is developed. This is a particularly fine piece.

The Four Mazurkas, Op.34 open with a gentle No. 1 in E minor with this pianist subtly picking up the rhythm in the opening before it develops into a true mazurka. A more deliberate passage emerges with more forceful chords before the end. The gently rhythmic No. 2 in F minor has a light and reflective theme given a lovely fluent, yet crisp performance. It occasionally rises to passages of more drama before the calm coda.

No. 3 in A minor brings some lively rhythmic phrases as well as more flowing passages before the quizzical little coda and the set concludes with a joyful No. 4 in G flat major, full of fine ideas and flowing through some beautifully developed passages.

Barbara Karaśkiewicz brings us six of Statkowski’s Immortelles, Op.19 (Immortal or Everlasting). It seems that these may be the only surviving pieces from the whole set, the others possibly lost during the Second World War.

The first, B major has a lovely freedom as it slowly reveals itself and develops through more complex passages before a gentle coda. The calm gentle C major moves ahead at a gentle pace with some lovely harmonies midway as the music starts to rise in drama and dynamics before concluding gently. There is a tempestuous rocking motion to the F sharp minor before the music becomes more rhythmic with this pianist showing a fine subtle rubato. 

The E flat major has a fast flowing theme with a lovely ebb and flow before a quiet coda followed by the calm delicate little E flat minor that has a rather nostalgic feel. With the A flat major a longer theme overlaps an insistent motif for the right hand with moments of lovely freedom and flow in this attractive piece.

The final work on this disc is the Six Pieces, Op.16 that opens with a jaunty Capriccio full of good humour and played quite brilliantly here with a lovely crispness and some very fine intricate, fast passages before a terrific coda. There is a lovely rhythmic flow to the following Impromptu that leads through some thoughtful passages caught nicely by this pianist. The fast moving Valse is given a terrific fluent rhythmic lift by Karaśkiewicz as it moves through some rollicking passages. This is a terrific work, full of rhythmic bounce with another great coda.

All'antico is full of varying rhythms, light and dexterous with a lovely central, quiet and delicate section before a lovely coda. The Alla burla takes off at a great pace, the composer bringing some fine sonorities and textures in his writing, drawn out finely by this pianist. There is a slower passage before the music rushes to the coda. There is a lovely rippling opening to Aupres de la fontaine, the final piece in this set with some fine fluent, rhythmically fast moving passages.  

This is a valuable new release of music that deserves to be heard. Many of these pieces would sit well in any recital. The recording is close and detailed with a fine piano tone. The booklet is well up to Divine Art’s usual high standards with excellent booklet notes from Barbara Karaśkiewicz. 

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