polish quartets acte prealable

Władysław Pachulski (1857-1919)
String Quartet in E minor
Henryk Pachulski (1859-1921)
Moment musical, Op.22 No.1 (1912)
Méditation, Op.25 (1900)
Ludomir Michał Rogowski (1881-1954)
String Quartet No.2 (1939)
Apolinary Szeluto (1889-1966)
String Quartet No.2, Op.232 ‘Tatra’ (1951)
Kazimierz Rozbicki (1932-2018)
Introitus from Missa festiva (1999)
Tono Quartet
Dawid Lewandowski (double bass)
rec. 2023, Kościoł sw. Jana, Milkołow, Poland
Acte Préalable AP0565 [78]

Though Władysław Pachulski was Polish-born he spent most of his life in Russia where he was a pupil of Nikolai Rubinstein and later, it’s believed, of Tchaikovsky. He is best-remembered as being the secretary of Nadezhda von Meck, the composer’s benefactress, and may have had something to do with the severance of the relationship between her and Tchaikovsky. Much of the Pachulski biography seems to be mired in ambiguity.

The good news is that this is ancillary detail and what concerns the listener is his String Quartet in E minor, undated here, but sounding ‘School of the 1880s’. Tchaikovsky is known to have been scathing about some of Pachulski’s works but he’s not known to have commented, if he heard it, on this quartet, a work of considerable prolixity. The long first movement includes a brief fugato as well as a great deal of mellifluous doodling stretched out to 13 insufferably rambling minutes. The sequential scherzo has a greater sense of brevity and comes complete with a dancing sliver of a B section, whilst the slow movement is full of perfumed lyricism that shows a certain Schubertian inheritance. The finale delves into the Slavic playbook with a richly-coated Dvořák-like terpsichorean drive. The quartet was published in Germany: the title page is reprinted in the booklet.

Henryk Pachulski was Władysław’s brother and is represented by two miniatures for string quartet, in these performances bolstered by double bass. The Moment musical was originally written for piano and I’m not sure whether this arrangement is contemporary or indeed whether the double bass part is authentic or an alternative scoring. In any case it’s cast in the familiar form of continental melancholy whereas the Méditation is lighter and longer. The double bass certainly makes its presence known as it booms away. If the track listing didn’t tell me otherwise, I’d have guessed that the pieces had been transposed and the more melancholy piece was the Méditation.

After these, to be frank, less-than-gripping pieces by the Pachulski Brothers, it’s something of a relief to turn to Ludomir Michał Rogowski and his 1939 Quartet, which is crafted with skill, personality and a fine sense of form. If you like late-Romanticism spiced with folklore you’ll enjoy this four-movement, seventeen-minute work. Its fresh sonorities hint at one of two moments of Baroque cadences too, and there’s a continuity of expressive devices throughout that bind thematic elements together. There’s a neo-Classical element too, and Rogowski’s use of pizzicati in the Scherzo and again in the finale is another device that clips things together nicely. Polish dance rhythms irradiate this movement. This is a really fine work, excellently projected by the Tono Quartet.

Apolinary Szeluto’s Quartet is subtitled in the best traditions of the Young Poland movement, ‘Tatra’ – at least it’s not his Symphony which is apparently subtitled ‘On the great construction sites of the Soviet Union’ (boy, what a fun symphony that must be). Where Rogowski is full of caprice and folkloric elements, Szeluto plays it safer than safe with a mellifluous neo-Romantic work that manages to be almost wholly faceless.

The programme ends with an arrangement for quartet of Kazimierz Rozbicki’s Introitus from his Missa Festiva of 1999. Its brevity is allied to a reflective quality that evokes medieval liturgy, appropriately enough, and ends the programme with moments of sublime intensity.

That said, much of the music here – all three of the Pachulski pieces and the Szeluto – strike me as examples of dutiful conformity. Of the large-scale works Rogowski offers vibrant pleasure but, despite questions of like-minded nationality and fine performances, that makes for very lop-sided and not especially apt programming.

Jonathan Woolf  

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