Polish Concerti Vol1 DUX 1958

Polish Concerti Volume 1
Marcelo Nisinman (b.1970)
13 Variations on a Polish Melody (2018)
Mikołaj Piotr Górecki (b.1971)
The Second Space, for string quartet and string orchestra (2020)
Paveł Łukaszewski (b.1968)
Neopolis Concerto, for violin and string orchestra (2017)
Ewa Fabiańska-Jelińska (b.1989)
Concerto for Viola and Strings (2015)
Emanuel Salvador (violin)
Agnieszka Sawicka (violin)
Andriy Viytovych (viola)
Konstantin Heidrich (cello)
Baltic Neopolis Orchestra/Emmanuel Salvador
rec. 2022
Dux 1958 [62]

Marcelo Nisinman’s 13 Variations on a Polish Melody is here the first of four splendid works for strings with solo instruments. He squeezes both theme and variations into 11 minutes and a few seconds. There are short breaks from time to time, but it is not always easy to know when one variation ends and the next one starts. The theme is, according the composer’s note in the booklet, ‘the Polish Ave Maria’. It is presented straight and simply, almost like a four-part exercise. This leads the unwary listener into thinking that the work will present as a devout homage to the Virgin, but nothing could be further from the truth, as the first variation immediately plunges us into an abrasive world where no special technique of string writing is neglected. On-bridge, wild glissandi, snap pizzicato, all is exploited throughout the work. The variations ‘range from static to dark and its opposite’. Well, there isn’t much that is static in this work, though there is the odd calmer passage within its short time-frame, where the solo instruments are more in evidence. A pizzicato variation, perhaps even more than elsewhere, demonstrates the extreme virtuosity of the ensemble, and a kind of waltz follows, but with interruptions and providing very little repose. There are moments when you think the music is going to stray into folk song or traditional territory, but it never really does. The penultimate event is the return of the theme, easily recognisable over an apparently unrelated, chattering accompaniment, just the before the humorous gesture that ends the work.

Mikołaj Górecki’s The Second Space is, according the composer, ‘based on aleatoric texture with many elements inspired by spectralism’. The term ‘aleatoric’ I can cope with, but I had to look up ‘spectralism’ and found myself, after reading what is no doubt an excellent Wikipedia article, little the wiser. Some composers – and some visual artists too for that matter – should be banned from writing about their own works. Górecki’s introduction is of no help at all, particularly since The Second Space is a thoroughly approachable work that one can appreciate at first hearing. Two kinds of music dominate, fast and slow. The fast music is composed of tiny melodic fragments much repeated, but where the most important element is a kind of motoric, driving rhythm, often highly irregular and frequently very exciting. The musical language here is freely atonal, but this changes in the slower sections. The first of these, in particular, features a long melody from the solo cello, almost romantic in nature and, incidentally, beautifully played by Konstantin Heidrich. Disquiet and unease then creep into the music, only for it to break into a rapid, chasing passage of moto perpetuo. The end of the work is remarkably managed, with the opening music broken up into ghostly fragments that eventually lead to an affirmative, though frantic, close on a sonorous and richly scored major chord. Like the Nisinman, this work says a lot in a very short time.

Many listeners will know Paveł Łukaszewski from his choral music. In presenting his work, he confines himself, wisely, to the story of how his Concerto for Violin and Strings came to be written for this orchestra. He uses a musical language considerably less advanced than that of the two previous works, making the piece even more immediately approachable. The solo part is well-defined, making this a true concerto, albeit a short one at a little over 15 minutes. The first movement, nervy and unsettled, is based on short motifs rather than extended melodic writing. These motifs are subjected to repetition and limited development, and the end of the movement has them dying away into silence. The second movement, however, features extended melodic writing for the soloist over a richly scored accompaniment. The solo writing is elaborate, at times almost like birdsong, and the overall atmosphere is pastoral and gently sad. After a while a melodic fragment based on a series of descending thirds establishes itself, and it is this that dies away, as before, to end a movement that casts a powerful spell making one wish it could go on for longer. The finale is light, lively and playful, dominated by a motif of eight short notes followed by a single longer one, a strangely halting effect. There is a cadenza for the soloist that is arguably too long for the work’s modest dimensions, though it does provide further opportunity for Emmanuel Salvador, who is also the orchestra’s director, to demonstrate his technical prowess, extreme sweetness of tone and striking musical sensitivity. The finale, and the concerto, ends in the same way as the previous movements, though the composer has a surprise waiting for the listener.

At a little over 23 minutes, Ewa Fabiańska-Jelińska’s Viola Concerto is the longest work in this collection. Hers is also the most informative introduction, though a couple of expressions still defeat this reader. (Translation difficulties may account for some of this.) The concerto is in three movements, the first of which is intended to reflect ‘a world immersed in chaos’, whereas the second ‘is a process of searching for “a path of light” … in order to obtain a joyful, subtle and dance mood in the last movement’. The composer achieves her aims. Highly rhythmic and accented music dominates the first movement, as does a tendency to dwell in the lower regions of the instruments. A solo cadenza begins at the mid-point, and indeed there is much unaccompanied music from the soloist throughout the work. The second movement begins with a reflective monologue, and the way out of chaos is slow and gradual, featuring amongst other events a duet between the soloist and the bass instruments of the orchestra. Things are pretty static until a pizzicato motif sets the music in motion once again, and the ending of the movement is particularly beautiful and moving. The composer’s note mentions the ‘virtuoso elements’ of the finale, but there is also a lovely, lyrical central section to charm the ear, as well as further ruminative solo writing that rather gets in the way of the movement’s forward progress. Once again, though, subsequent hearings reveal a deeply satisfying work, and when one reads in the booklet that Andriy Viytovych has led the viola section of the London Symphony Orchestra and teaches at London’s Royal College of Music one is not surprised by his mastery of the challenging solo part.

The booklet accompanying this disc gives basic information about the artists but is inadequate in respect of the programme. The performances, however, are spectacularly fine, and the recorded sound is as rich and immediate as you could wish for. The disc celebrates the 15th anniversary of the Baltic Neopolis Orchestra with four works specially written for or associated with the ensemble, each of which is compelling and deeply satisfying in its own way. It is not, perhaps, a disc that one might buy on the spur of the moment, which is why I recommend it highly and hope that listeners will take a chance on it.

William Hedley

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