The Huberman Duo & Trio Play Polish Works

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SZYMANOWSKI: Violin Sonata, Op. 9. PANUFNIK: Piano Trio.* BACEWICZ: Violin Sonata No. 4 / Huberman *Duo & Trio: Magdalena Ziarkowska-Kolacka, vln; Barbara Karaśkiewicz, pno; Sergei Rysanov, cel / Divine Art 25206

The Huberman Duo (and Trio) Aare named after the great, and still vastly underrated, Polish-Jewish violinist Bronisław Huberman, whose work I reviewed on a reissue CD in July of this year, but alas, violinist Magdalena Ziarkowska-Kolacka’s playing bears no resemblance to his. Which isn’t to say that she isn’t good—she is, and very good, in fact—but she uses a consistent light vibrato and a sweeping legato that are worlds apart from Huberman’s edgy style of playing and constant vacillation between straight tone and vibrato. Just saying.

Nonetheless, she and pianist Barbara Karaśkiewicz really tear into the early Szymanowski Violin Sonata with passion and sweep. At this stage of his career, Szymanowski had not yet found the more harmonically modern style that would make him both famous and infamous (musicians loved his music, but he died broke); it is, rather, in a late-Romantic vein which owes much more to Schumann and Brahms than it does to Scriabin and Stravinsky, whose music informed his own work later on. The second, livelier theme in the second-movement “Scherzando” is particularly interesting. The lively third-movement “Allegro molto quasi presto” sounds the most like the Szymanowski we know from the mazurkas. The last section features some fancy fast tremolo playing in the violin part and just a hint of the Szymanowski harmonies to come.

Normally I’m not crazy about the music of Andrej Panufnik, but I really enjoyed this piano trio. Written in 1934, when he was only 19 years old, it is an extremely interesting work, sort of a combination of Polish and Stravinskian rhythms with Debussy-like harmony. Here, Panufnik alternates between sweeping lyricism and fast, angular passages, but does so in a way that makes musical sense and develops logically. And suddenly, in the midst of the first-movement “Poco adagio,” Panufnik suddenly introduces a lively dance rhythm with bitonal harmony which relieves the mood of the piece. The liner notes indicate that, around the time he wrote this piece, he was also drawn to American jazz, but to be honest there is no jazz influence in this work.

Interestingly, although the cello is present in the first movement, it doesn’t really seem to play that big of a role in the music. It isn’t until the second movement that you really notice it, but even here it only plays occasionally. Sergei Rysanov is a good cellist but, to my ears, not possessed of a particularly rich or interesting tone. This movement goes right into the “Presto” without a break, and here Panufnik is particularly inventive, playing with the 6/8 scherzo rhythm in various permutations, even shifting away to a regular 4/4 after the opening theme statement. And the entire movement is playful and shows great imagination. Well done!

I can’t say for certain that Bacewicz’ Violin Sonata No. 4 is the best-known work on this program, since her music is still not played half as often in the West as it should be, but I do have two other performances of it, by violinists Piotr Plawner and Annabelle Berthomé-Reynolds in sets of her complete violin sonatas. This performance is also a good one, leaning more in the direction of a legato flow but still bringing out all the salient details of the score. It still irks me that she is so marginalized in England and America but, then again, so are Szymanowski and Weinberg (though the latter composer is finally picking up in performances).

A very fine and enjoyable CD, then. If you don’t have the Szymanowski and Panufnik pieces in your collection, this is clearly a disc you will want.

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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