deszczynski piano acte prealable

Józef Deszczyński (1781-1844)
Piano Works
Joanna Ławrynowicz (piano)
rec. 2021/22, Concert Hall of the Chopin University of Music, Warsaw
Acte Préalable AP572-73
[2 CDs: 130]

I have reviewed various CDs from Acte Préalable of music from composers writing toward the end of Chopin’s life and beyond but there has been little from composers born in the generation before Chopin.

One such is Józef Deszczyński was born in Vilnius, the Polish/Lithuanian city annexed by the Russians in the late 18th century. His education is unclear though he was gifted enough to be offered a post as conductor of Count Ludwig Rokicki’s private orchestra in Horodyszcze where Deszczyński spent the final thirty years of his life. He was a prolific composer with three piano concertos, two operas, four overtures and one of the earliest piano quartets to his name as well as a great deal of piano music. This has been all but forgotten and it is only through a great deal of research that Acte Préalable founder Jan Jarnicki has managed to collect together the works included on this disc, all that could be tracked down (thus far).

All but four of the twenty nine pieces here are Polonaises, the national dance that was undoubtedly even more popular in the upheaval and turbulence in the country at that time. None are dated but their opus numbers give a progression which can also be found in their content. The earlier sets, opp.1 and 2, are relatively straightforward dance forms in the style of the time, attractive melodically, marvellously crafted and doubtless they would have been popular with gifted amateurs in domestic music circles. Both sets reminded me a little of Schubert’s collections of Ländler and Waltzes in that each polonaise consists of several short dances; in op.2 one is more aware of a polonaise and trio format but they are still essentially the same. The four polonaises of op.6 are more mature and explore a more advanced harmonic palette which is immediately apparent in the rather exotic augmented fourths of the first. One can hear the influence of the music of Hummel and, by extension, early Chopin especially in the operatic melody line over a pulsing accompaniment of the second or the echoes Chopin’s op.71 polonaises in the fourth. Two later polonaises are based on themes from François-Adrien Boieldieu’s comic opera La Dame Blanche which was just one of the operas that Count Rokicki’s orchestra performed under Deszczyński’s leadership. He takes the chorus Sonnez cors et musettes, with its galloping rhythm and the tender tenor aria Viens gentille Dame and moulds them into a triple time polonaises. Boieldieu’s opera was first performed in Paris in 1825 so these two works date at least from a couple of years after that. His op.24 polonaises are also based on opera themes though we are not told what these may be; I don’t recognise them and the only clue we have is that Antonio Salieri’s Axur, re d’Ormus and Nicolas Isouard’s Joconde were also heard in Horodyszcze so maybe at least one of these provided material. Perhaps the most interesting of these later polonaises is the first of the Deux Polonaises titled Fantasia alla polacca in D major. For the most part it is akin to its companions in its structure and early 19th century romanticism leaning toward Hummel and Weber but its harmony is a little more daring; after eight bars of D major we find ourselves in F sharp major only to arrive in B flat major for a reprise of the opening theme. These are engaging works, full of grace and elegance without that sense of heightened drama that would elevate Chopin’s polonaises into such heroic tone poems. I would recommend not listening to them in one sitting; nearly two CDs worth of triple time dances in the same vein is a little too much however enjoyable they are individually.

Deszczyński turns to opera again for the first of his two marches written in honour of the Polish National Guard, basing it on a theme from the overture to Isouard’s Jaconde. The second is a quick march unusual in that it is almost entirely based on dotted rhythms; it is the more entertaining of the two and, being brief doesn’t overstay its welcome which I find the first does a little. The Valse de concert is very short and charming, reminding once again of Chopin’s early style. The Variations in A major are the most virtuosic work here and require a more advanced technique though stylistically there is nothing new here. An original theme that already sounds like the first decorated variation of an opera cavatina is followed by five variations with the usual palette of keyboard figurations; left hand triplets, right hands semiquavers and a minor key variation that leads to the jaunty hunting ride finale. The slow variation is actually quite dramatic with the theme now a melancholy cello melody for the left hand. Overall the work is a highly effective if light-hearted and short example of the genre that would have been even better if Deszczyński had managed to break away from the A major/minor tonality for at least one variation.

It is interesting to hear this recital as an example of the kind of music that the young Chopin would have heard in his formative years and it is from such music that his genius flowered. Listened to piecemeal rather than straight through there is much to enjoy here and that is very much thanks to the always excellent playing of Joanna Ławrynowicz, a stalwart contributor to the revival of rare Polish music.

Rob Challinor

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Six Polonaises Op.1
Six Polonaises nationales Op.2
Four Polonaise Op.6
Variations on an original theme in A major Op.2
Quatre Polonaise sur les motifs de differents opéras
Polonaise Op.29
Deux Polonaises
Polonaise faite sur le choeur ‘Sonnez cors et musettes’ tiréde l’opéra ‘La Dame Blanche’
de François Adrien Boieldieu
in A major
Polonaise sur le cavatina ‘Viens gentille Dame’ de l’opéra ‘La Dame Blanche’
in E flat major
Deux Marches
Valse brilliante in A flat major