Jan Radzynski’s Cello Music

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RADZYNSKI: Prayer and Dance. Concert Duos: I. Polonaise; II. Melody; III. Andalusia; IV. Valse; V. Victory March.+ Improvisation for Cello Solo. 5 Duets for 2 Cellos.* Cello Sonata / Zvi Plesser, *Hillel Zori, cel; +Chen Halevi, cl; Matan Porat, pno / Centaur CRC 3480

Israeli cellist Zvi Plesser plays here a program of music for his instrument by Polish-born composer Jan Radynski, who migrated to Israel at age 19. Radynski studied composition with Leon Schidlowsky in Israel and with Krzysztof Penderecki and Jacob Druckman at Yale University, later teaching at Yale before joining the faculty at Ohio State University in 1994, where he still teaches.

Radzynski’s music is much more lyrical than Penderecki’s, thank goodness, yet it has extremely undercurrents in the piano harmony that mark it as modern. In the opening “Prayer,” too, there’s a very interesting passage in which the piano follows the cello closely, an octave higher, in single-note lines, whereas the “Dance” is almost like something that Szymanowski would have written.

Zvi Plesser

Zvi Plesser

The Concert Duos feature clarinetist Chen Halevi, who often plays in his instrument’s lower register to create a nice balance with the cello. This music, too, has a modern feel in both the top line and the harmony created without sacrificing lyricism. The rhythm in the first piece certainly has a polonaise feel to it, but only at certain moments; otherwise, it moves along at a nice clip without emphasizing the beat. In “Melody,” the two instruments play tonally in close harmony for a long stretch of time. The “Valse” is a very strange piece in close harmony, some of it bitonal. Radzynski also continues this little bitonality game into the last piece, “Victory March,” adding some sliding portamento near the very end.

The Improvisation for Cello Solo gives the player a chance to show off several technical tricks, including fast tremolos with the bow while he continues to pluck bass notes in the lower strings, microtonal slides, and other devices, yet still retains a good sense of musical form. This is the first piece on this CD that is truly modern in every sense of the word, lacking a recognizable melodic form in the old completely tonal system.

Radzynski employs a sort of in-between system of writing for the 5 Duets for 2 Cellos. Each cello plays a line that, by itself, sounds perfectly fine to those with a tonal bias, but put together they create friction in intervals that are, so to speak, “too close for comfort” except in the fourth piece, “Remembering Sephared,” which is pretty much in B minor.

With the Cello Sonata, we return to Radzynski’s style of writing essentially lyrical, melodic lines for the cello while shifting chords and chord positions in the piano part, with excellent results. At times, this sonata put me in mind of (good) Shostakovich, while in other places the music was edgier than even he would have written. Radzynski increases the tension in the first movement by having the solo cello play lines that gradually rise, either by whole or half-steps, until it breaks out with a double-time passage that releases the tension temporarily. The second movement opens with a lyrical yet passionate theme statement by the cello before the piano enters, an ostinato march rhythm is introduced on the piano, and off we go to no one knows where. Eventually we hear both instruments, each in his favorite key, trying to make their music mesh but only rarely having success at it. In the third movement, both instruments start out in a querulous mood, testing the waters, before the cello suddenly tries to make a break for it via rising serrated figures, but the piano says, “Oh no, you don’t!” and chases after him. Eventually the cello slows down, as if he wants to be caught, but as soon as the piano sounds close enough he is again off to the races. It’s a very whimsical piece, full of humor and, again, well written.

This is a really interesting CD of well-written and interesting music. You can be sure I’ll be keeping my eye out for more of Radzynski’s music in the future.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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