Exploring the Music of Andrzej Karałow

cover DUX 1584

AwardTHROUGH / KARAŁOW: Violin Sonata.1 Through.2 Piano Trio.3 Imploded Agglomeration4 / Andrzej Karałow, pno; 1Małgorzata Wasiucionek, 2Roksana Kwaśnikowska, 3Agata Łazarczyk, vln; 2Jacek Dziołak, bs-cl/perc; 3Marianna Sikorska, 4Agata Bąk, cel; 4Łukasz Piotrowski, perc / Dux 1584

Andrzej Karałow (b. 1991) is a young Polish pianist, composer and improviser who studied piano with Bronisława Kawalla and composition with Stanisław Moryto. Since 2016 he has been an assistant lecturer at the Frydryk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw. Although classical music is his chief occupation, he has also worked in electronic music. This is his third album and the second of his own music, the first of these being improvised electronic works.

The Violin Sonata opens the first movement, “Largo fantastico,” with a somewhat tonal and lyrical melodic line, played on the edge of the strings by the violinist, with the piano coming in behind it with, again, somewhat tonal chords…but the chord positions are unusual, leaning towards modality. Yet there is a very rhapsodic quality in this music, which turns a bit edgier and more atonal around the 1:40 mark. Eventually the violin goes flying up into its highest range, the piano part becomes busier and moves into the right hand, and things get a bit edgier. Karałow definitely has a style all his own, based on late-Romantic ideas but harmonically in the same ballpark as Miecysław Weinberg’s music. I wonder if this resemblance is conscious or not; after all, Karałow is exactly the right age to have been influenced by Weinberg, whose music didn’t really emerge from the shadows until about a dozen or so years ago. At a little past the halfway mark, the music becomes “fantastic” indeed, using unusual syncopations in the piano rhythm that somewhat resemble jazz.

The three movements, being linked, create an almost seamless structure that almost explodes in the last movement, “Presto mistico,” where the violin plays edgy tremolos while the piano carries the thread of the melodic line, such as it is, and dictates the brisk and often-shifting rhythms except for one moment at 1:52 when it is the violin that pushes the piano in its rhythmic direction. It is a brilliantly-conceived piece of music, surely one of the most original and convincing I’ve heard from a young composer in ages.

Through, for violin, bass clarinet, piano and percussion, is a three-movement work in which Karałow uses staccato notes in the first instrument’s lowest range almost as a percussion instrument in itself. The music, again, has a lyrical quality with edgy harmonies, turning quicker and more percussive as we approach the middle of the first movement. Once again, the fascination in this music comes from Karałow’s handling of musical material and his ability to create a continuous flow in which all the components make perfect sense while still being unusual, unexpected and creative. The violin slides through portamento passages, the bass clarinet rises a bit in its range, and the whole piece comes together marvelously. And once again, the movements blend into one another, creating an almost seamless flow. After the slow second movement, the third, titled “Night Stream,” does indeed flirt with a jazz feel as the music becomes much edgier, using the three instruments to interact with each other in a way where each of the three help to complete musical thoughts. Again, it is a remarkable piece. The bass clarinet uses “slap-tongue” technique to spurt out several of his notes when he is not playing like some evil serpent in the background.

Next up is the Piano Trio, and oddly enough this is the first piece on the album to start off in an edgy manner with ambiguous harmonies rather than work its way slowly towards that goal. One can clearly hear Karałow’s musical mind working in this piece the way he probably does in electronic music, the notes (particularly in the piano part) sounding somewhat random and robotic, yet the passionate violin and cello lines make it an emotionally charged and vibrant work. This “Allegro” movement suddenly and unexpectedly slow down around the four-minute mark, only to alternate between slow, lyrical music and fast, edgy passages. The music decelerates near the end of the first movement to allow yet another linkage to the second, slow movement, which is a bit edgy but more lyrical and mysterious, and then to the even slower and edgier third-movement “Largo.” In the fourth and last movement, Karałow starts off slow and mysterious, but quickly ramps up both the volume and the emotional level.

This recital ends with the three-part piece for cello, piano and percussion, Imploded Agglomeration, and here again one senses Karałow’s electronic music background—except that, for me anyway, I much prefer hearing music played by human beings and real instruments than by electronic instruments. This is undoubtedly the most far-out piece on the record, yet it, too, has a well-bound structure despite its outré elements. Since this uses the most percussion of any piece on the disc, it often displays the edgiest syncopation though it often falls back into moments of quietude. This is especially true of the almost sub-tone second movement, titled “Sacred Place, Part 1,” where the music moves along not only slowly but with very little going on in terms of development, yet the unusual succession of notes and sounds, including the cellist playing on the edge of its strings and the pianist playing with the damper pedal on creates an interesting effect. In the third and last movement, “Sacred Place, Part II,” the music begins slowly but picks up with a quirky, repeated syncopated motif played by the pianist while the cello moans softly in its upper register and the percussion interjects a few thumps. This eventually moves into long-held notes in the middle-to-low range of the instrument as the percussion drops out temporarily (it returns when the cello turns edgy once again) and the piano plays yet another, different repeated motif as the tension builds—not towards angst or edginess, but towards a sort of rowdy happiness.

Andrzej Karałow is clearly one of the most original, and inspired, young composers I’ve heard in many a year. I cannot recommend this album highly enough.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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One thought on “Exploring the Music of Andrzej Karałow

  1. Aleksandra Kitka-Coutellier says:

    Thank you for this review. We are trying to join the author of this article. Thank you in advance for your help.


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