Fabiańska-Jelińska’s Chamber Music

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FABIAŃSKA-JELIŃSKA: Toccata for Accordion & Piano / Wolańska-Gajda Duo / Meditation I for Piano, Clarinet, Trombone & Cello / Sepia Ensemble: Tomasz Sośniak, pno; Szymon Józwiak, cl; Wojiech Jeliński, tb; Anna Szmatoła, cel / Meditation III for Solo Trombone / Wojiech Jeliński, tb / Bagatelle for Clarinet & Piano / Paweł Kroczek, cl; Hanna Lizinkiewicz, pno / Elegy / Lech Bałaban, vla / Amnesia for Trombone Quartet / Trombquartet / Lullaby / Maria Rutkowska, pno / Baby’s Expressions / Magdalena Jakubska-Szymiec, a-sax / Viola Sonata / Ewa Guzowska, vln; Maria Koszewska-Wajdzik, pno / Dux 1684

Hey, did you know that Ewa Fabiańska-Jelińska is one of the most active and recognized composers of her generation? I sure didn’t. And I’m not sure that her generation, whatever it is (she hides her birth date online), knows it either. But remember, she’s only ONE of the most active and recognized composers of her generation. There are probably others just as active if not more so, and possibly others more recognized (especially if they appear on Dancing With the Stars or Cops). But such is the idiocy of modern-day publicity that this is what they come up with instead of simply saying, “She’s a very original composer who deserves more recognition.” Which she is.

We start with an oddity, a Toccata for piano and accordion. Bless the Poles, they love them some accordion. (I should know; my father coerced me into learning how to play one so I could be the performing monkey at family gatherings as a child.) But the music is indeed strange; sort of minimalistic to a point, though after the 1:45 mark it begins to develop, including some slapping of the piano frame as well as some strange whooshing sounds caused by the accordion’s bellows. Fabiańska-Jelińska knows how to set and sustain a mood without resorting to cheap Romantic effects, and this one ends with a fade out into nothingness.

But the effects produced in this opening piece are nothing compared to the even stranger Meditation I for piano, clarinet, trombone and cello. If you expected (as I did) somewhat conventional music, you’d be as shocked as I to hear it open with strange scuffling and knocking sounds, followed by a few sparse notes played at the upper reaches of the piano. The other instruments are almost never heard in conventional sounds, but rather rhythmic whispers, the bell of the trombone and the soundboard of the cello being struck, and the clarinetist breathing through his mouthpiece. Yet there are occasional sustained tones played by the trombonist against sharply-struck bitonal piano chords, and even a few liquid notes played by the clarinetist

Ironically, Meditation III for solo trombone does not begin in a very meditative mood; on the contrary, it opens with the soloist loudly growling out a repeated sequence of E-F-E-F-E-F, adding one or two other notes a bit later on, before finally pulling back on the volume at the 1:55 mark and playing with a cup mute, which is occasionally used for a growl or two. Although this piece is not jazz, it clearly uses techniques taken from jazz trombone playing and not from standard classical trombone practice. Later on in the piece, the soloist also blows air and speaks through his instrument as well as hitting it with some sort of metallic object.

I found Fabiańska-Jelińska’s music closely related to the strange music of the late Pauline Oliveros, but more interesting because there is more going on here musically and less reliance on ambient sound (one of Oliveros’ pieces simply consisted of echoing sounds made in an empty water tower). In the Bagatelle for clarinet and piano, for instance, there is more actual playing of notes and even moments when the soloists are called on to sing a few short passages—yet there is still some breathing through the clarinet and knocking on the piano frame. Even more surprisingly, the Elegy for solo viola opens with a broad, lyrical melody set to a tonal framework before moving into stranger territory. There is more trombone growling in Amnesia, this time by four of them, in a piece that also includes some surprisingly complex counterpoint between the four instruments. (I wonder if she’s been listening to some of those old Stan Kenton recordings!)

The same aesthetics apply to the remaining pieces on this CD, the Lullaby for piano (pure minimalism), Baby’s Expressions for alto saxophone (in which the soloist soundlessly clicks the keys as well as singing a few notes), and the Viola Sonata. This is clearly not an album for all tastes, but it’s so interesting, individual and varied that it held my attention from beginning to end. Fabiańsla-Jelińska clearly has her own thing going for her; her music doesn’t sound like anyone else’s.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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