More Modern Music by Polish Performers!

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SCHNYDER: Alto Saxophone Sonata. MESSIAEN: Le merle noir for Flute & Piano. M. GÓRECKI: Clarinet Sonata / Szymon Zawodny, a-sax; Łukasz Długosz, fl; Andrzej Wojiechowski, cl; Izabela Paszkiewicz, pno / Dux 1728

It’s so seldom that I get two, let alone one, downloads of Dux albums for review that I thought I’d celebrate by reviewing these two back-to-back. This one is a bit unusual in that it features the relatively well-known Polish flautist Lukasz Dłgosz and, in the opening piece, the jazz-influenced music of Swiss composer Daniel Schnyder, whose work I covered in some depth in my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond (available on this website for free reading).

The Schnyder sonata is a very fine one, blending the jazz and classical elements seamlessly as he generally does. The trick in performing his music is to have a fine enough technique to be able to negotiate all of the tricky technical passages while still being able to project the proper jazz rhythm when called upon to do so. Listening carefully to this performance, I felt that alto saxist Szymon Zawodny did an excellent job on his end, but that pianist Izabela Paszkiewicz was just a shade too formal in her playing of the syncopated rhythms. This wasn’t enough to damage the performance entirely, though it did make, you might say, “the crooked straight and the rough places plain.” I was, however, very glad to have it since I didn’t have a recording of this piece in my collection. At a few places in the first movement, such as at the six-minute mark, it almost sounded as if the duo was playing a Latin rhythm, which may have been  Schnyder’s intention since the title of this movement is “Manhattan excavation sites.” This the duo did very well.

The second movement, “A travers les ondes élastiques de l’atmosphere” (“Through the elastic waves of the atmosphere”), more classical than jazz, is a strange, slightly eerie piece that exploits the lyrical side of the alto sax…one might say a “Johnny Hodges” kind of piece. Though tonal, the tonality wavers a bit, moving in and out of neighboring tones and half-tones. In the third movement, “A brasiliera,” Schnyder most decidedly sets up a Latin-type rhythm but with irregular divisions in the beats for the piano while the alto sax glides smoothly overhead except for some surprisingly gutsy playing at about the three-minute mark. A very nice piece.

Messiaen’s very brief Le merle noir (the blackbird) is typical of this composer’s bird music: indefinable crushed chords in the piano part while the solo flute explores its own bird-song in the upper range. It makes an effective contrast with the Schnyder piece.

The recital ends with an unusual chamber work by Mikołaj Górecki (b. 1971), son of the more famous composer Henryk Górecki. Mikołai evidently pursues a similarly Impressionist-influenced style to that of his father, mixing in a few mixed or crushed chords within its basically pentatonic structure and emphasizing ambience. The difference seems to be, at least in this piece, that the younger Górecki doesn’t mind tightening up the tempo and increasing volume to create some edgy passages within his essentially lyrical framework. This is especially evident in the fast, quirky, and slightly jazz-tinged second movement, titled “Molto energico.” One could almost imagine Benny Goodman playing this piece in concert. Despite the quick tempo, however, there’s a certain menacing overtone to this music, reminiscent of Jack Nicholson running down a haunted hallway in The Shining. We return to slow and mysterious music in the final “Lento,” in which Górecki explores extended chords around which a strange clarinet line coils like a snake.

This is another excellent album, highly recommended.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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