JULIUSZ ZAREBSKI: Quintet for Piano and Strings in G minor, Op. 34. WLADYSLAW ZELENSKI: Quartet for Piano and Strings in C minor, Op. 61 – Szymanowski String Quartet, Jonathan Plowright, p. – Hyperion 67905, 61 mins. *****:
Entering a small but select group of ensembles who have recorded Juliusz Zarebski’s deeply moving Piano Quintet, including Martha Argerich and her glamorous Lugano crew, an immensely talented team tackle and vanquish this brilliant flourish of a bygone age composed in full Polish Romantic bloom by one of Liszt’s most admired students.
In fact, the Quintet (which shares its opus number with Brahms’s own Piano Quintet, probably not coincidentally), was dedicated to Liszt; tragically, however, the year it was completed, 1885, became the year in which the tubercular Zarebski died. (Rubbing salt in the wounds posthumously, the Quintet would not be published be until 1931.)
The performance marries Jonathan Plowright’s total keyboard command, executed with steely grace and a warmth of tone that shines with silver and gold, to the Szymanowski Quartet’s equally sumptuous mastery of tone and elegance of phrasing. Together they create the perfect ambience for the emotional storm clouds that frequently pass over powerfully expressive music that resides moodily in a late 19th-century parallel universe definitely haunted by the Abbé himself, as well as by sadness and death.
I heard Plowright play this Quintet at the Zakopane Festival in 2010 with a brilliant young Polish Festival ensemble; his playing here with the Polish-Ukrainian Szymanowkis is no less brilliant, less luminous, more sinewy.
The music of Zelenski is yet more obscure than Zarebski’s. It was written in an undeniably expert, highly persuasive way that seems totally authentic yet it seems lost in the mists of Mendelssohn and mellow Schumann. It could have been written for audiophiles: Check out the opening two minutes of the second movement (Romanza), the way the strings layer against each other and against the background supplied by the piano.
The miraculous recording was made in Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, and Adrian Thomas’s excellent liner tell some intriguing musical stories