stojowski piano acte prealable

Zygmunt Stojowski (1870-1946)
Piano Works Volume 1
Deux Pensées musicales Op.1 (1889)
Deux Caprices-Études
Op.2 (1889)
Trois Intermèdes
Op.4 (1891)
Quatre Morceaux
Op.5 (1894)
Trois Morceaux
Op.8 (1891)
Karol Garwoliński (piano)
rec. 2022, Szkola Muzyczna, Lublin, Poland
Acte Préalable AP0541

In a youthful browse of Manchester’s Henry Watson library some 40 odd years ago I came across a volume containing a charming salon Valse by one Sigismond Stojowski and I still play that piece to this day. I wanted to hear more Stojowski but it was many years before I managed to obtain an International Piano Archives release of some of his radio broadcasts and Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s recordings of two of his works – the chant d’amour op.26 no.3 and By the brookside, the third of his op.30 Esquisses. There was even a recording of the Valse recorded on a piano roll by Mischa Levitski but these were just tempting if delicious morsels and nothing else appeared until Jonathan Plowright recorded his piano concertos (Hyperion CDA67314) and devoted an excellent CD to his solo piano works (Hyperion CDA67437). This selection demonstrated the breadth of Stojowski’s creativity from the early character pieces to the more complex passions of his Fantaisie or Aspirations. The ever-enterprising company Acte Préalable now brings us what promises to be the complete piano works with this first volume played by Lublin born pianist Karol Garwoliński. For Jan Jarnicki, founder of Acte Préalable, this project as been a long time coming; he has been interested in the music of Stojowski since the mid-nineties and indeed several of his works have already appeared on the label – AP0249 contains the works for violin and piano, AP0144 the works for cello and piano and AP0221 adds the violin concerto and romance for violin and orchestra. It has taken until now to find a pianist willing to take on the challenge of this unfamiliar music and it is a pleasure to say that Garwoliński is a worthy champion of this music.

Zygmunt Stojowski was born in 1870 in Strzelce and in addition to some lesser-known figures he studied with Władysław Żeleński and between 1887 and 1889 with Theodore Dubois, Léo Delibes in composition and Louis Diémer for piano, an impressive pedigree. It was not long before he was studying with Władysław Gorski and Ignacy Jan Paderewski, both of whom Stojowski counted as having had the greatest influence on him. At the age of 15 he performed Beethoven’s C minor Concerto playing his own cadenzas; this was the start of a career that took him all over Europe and he made enough of a name for himself to be in invited to join the piano faculty at the Institute of Musical Art (later part of the Julliard School of Music). Unfortunately he was one of those musicians whose fame didn’t long outlast their demise; despite being the first Polish composer to have a programme devoted to their music by the New York Philharmonic orchestra and having his works frequently performed by major artists – Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman, even Liberace recorded one of his pieces – his brand of 20th century romanticism was doomed to fade away in the harsher musical climate of the mid 20th Century. Trombonists have continued to play his Fantasie op.27 but it is only recently that the rest of his gifts are being rediscovered and recognised.

Garwoliński plays these pieces in opus number order though his earliest piano works, existing only in manuscript and including a Phantaisie (1886), theme and variations and trois morceaux en miniature (1885), are not, so far included – hopefully a later volume will include them. The solos here date from 1889, the final year of his study in Paris, to 1894, part of his Paderewski years. Indeed there is more of a hint of Paderewski’s writing in the opening Mélodie; a beautiful melody full of nostalgia similar to the writing in Paderewski’s Mélodie or Nocturne from his Miscellena op.16 written just a couple of years previously. Garwoliński is a little broader than Plowright or Stojowski himself (International piano Archives LP IPA115) but no less successful in finding a singing line. The Prélude opens a little like Pachulski’s occasionally heard prelude in C minor but its dramatic range is much wider ranging from tenderness to full bloodied passion. The two Caprices-Études were written about the same time and ably display Stojowski’s superb technical facility. The first, la fileuse has a constant stream of gossamer demi-semi quavers over a melodic staccato bass but the second is the winner of the two for me, a modestly titled toccatina with a bright and breezy left-hand melody against a testing double note study for the right hand; hints of Chopin’s étude op.25 no.6 and Schumann’s Toccata are found but Stojowski makes it his own. The études are dedicated to my dear master Louis Diemer,  a well-respected teacher who also taught Robert Casadesus, Lazare-Lévy, Yves Nat and Alfred Cortot and was the dedicatee of Franck’s Symphonic variations and concertos by Massenet, Saint-Saëns and Lalo.

The Trois Intermèdes and Trois Morceaux date from his first year with Paderewski. Intermède no.1 is a slightly halting little serenade, it’s simple melody singing over staccato chords while the second opens as a wistful mazurka but has some more energetic figures along the way. The third put me in mind of Chopin’s Prelude in B flat with its sinuous chromatic left hand but though there are similarities – they even share a key – Stojowski goes in a different direction dramatically and harmonically. The morceaux open with a passionate légende, slightly more harmonically complex though still decidedly romantic and we are offered a virtuoso treatment of the opening melody, surrounded by swirling chromatic lines à la Liszt or Thalberg before reaching the tranquil close. The Mazurka that follows is a mix of rugged dance full of octaves and more lyrical, intimate passages. Stojowski’s fondness for side-stepping keys is apparent in the opening C major theme that nudges into B flat major for a couple of bars. The innocuous tune of the sérenade with its little arabesques does nothing to prepare us for the darker mood that we find at the heart of the piece, brooding and a little lugubrious and leading to a sudden cadenza before the optimistic opening returns to gently finish the piece. The edition I have (Pitt and Hatzfeld Ltd) has an extra 22 bars to the Schott edition that Garwoliński plays from though it is mostly repeated music with just six bars slightly altered.

Finally there are two sets from 1894; opp.5 and 10. Op.5 consists of a berceuse, scherzo, Gondoliera and mazurka and stylistically they are close to the earlier pieces here. The berceuse is full of lush chromatic harmony though Stojowski keeps the mood gentle throughout, a mood that Garwoliński maintains beautifully. In complete contrast is the scherzo in canon, an energetic dance in contrapuntal style while Gondoliera is, not surprisingly, a barcarolle but simpler than Liszt’s shimmering Gondoliera with its cascading arabesques. The Mazurka is earthy, vigorous and virtuosic but with a quirky, bucolic little central section that skips merrily along seemingly unaware of the grand dance going on around it. Again in the edition I have in front of me this middle section is extended –  it would have been nice to hear this with its baritone answering the soprano tune.

The two Orientales are perhaps the most advanced works here. The oriental nature of the Romance is not the far east as one would imagine; it reminds me more of a melancholy folk melody from the Steppes. It is all based around the rather declamatory theme heard at the opening and the sad little motif that follows; the relaxed sense of metre – Stojowski changes the bar lengths quite often – adds to the folk like quality and in the bars just before the end there is a really heartfelt moment when a little rising chromatic line briefly joins the main theme. Caprice, the second number, is dedicated to Josef Hofmann and it is a work he played often though the only recording we have, not unusually for Hofmann, is a live one from a 1938 Casimir Hall recital. Garwoliński does not attempt the almost explosive extremes of Hofmann, probably wisely, but he certainly has the fingers to tackle the virtuosic outer sections –  I would question an 1895 review in the Musical Review of op.5 and op.10 that says none of these pieces are difficult especially as a later writer described the caprice as a worthy substitute…to Balakirev’s Islamey. My only quibble with with Garwoliński is that I find he plays the maestoso too slowly but he does capture some of the humour in the middle section poco meno vivace, capriccioso. I still prefer Plowright’s fleet performance on Hyperion.

Overall this is a marvellous start to an important project; admirers of romantic piano music will find lots to enjoy here; there are many delights aplenty and we are in safe hands with Karol Garwoliński. The notes, in Acte Préalable’s customary glossy booklets, are in Polish and English and if they say little concrete about the music they give us some detail of Stojowski’s life as well as two photographs of the composer and reproductions of the title pages of several of his piano works. More volumes soon please.

Rob Challinor

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