Violinist Piotr Janowski (b. 1951) won the International Wieniawski Competition in 1967, so he cherishes this music; and at least two pieces, the Grand Duo and the Oriental Fantasy, receive through him their world premier recordings. Janowski’s pedigree includes studies with Heifetz, Szeryng, Galamian, and Francescatti. His Norwegian accompanist Wolfgang Plagge (b. 1960) sticks with him like a molded glove, much as Brooks Smith assisted Ruggiero Ricci in the music of Sarasate on Decca years ago. The surround sound medium captures the sonic rapport of the two instruments, especially as the linear, thin tone of violin encounters the rounded, lush timbres in the piano.
The two longest works, the Romance without Words, Op. 9 and the Grand Duo Polonaise, Op. 8, justify Wieniawski’s repute as “the Chopin of the violin.” Eminently virtuosic and melodic fluent, they bespeak the consummate mastery over the instrument the composer possessed. Each enjoys the grand flourish, the large gesture, establishing a sense of salon elegance to the occasion. The same series of curtsies, only pentatonic, charm us in the Oriental Fantasy, Op. 24. We can hear its similarity to the music of Cui and even Bloch. Janowski executes its demands for double stops and saltando effects in a manner thoroughly reminiscent of Ricci in his own heyday, the sparks flying in all directions. The slow-fast structure, so common in Liszt and Bartok, appears in the Adagio elegiaque, Op. 5 as it is juxtaposed to the Op. 4 Polonaise. Janowski’s rather nasal tone manages to make the former piece sing even to the high flute register. The playing of the Polonaise is mannered, in the 19th century style, lots of luftpuasen and hesitation on the second beat.
Why time allotments could not permit Janowski to record the Op. 21 Polonaise as well is beyond me. The opening work, the Sonata Allegro, Op. 2, stands alone (like the FAE Sonata of Brahms and Schumann), a joint composition (c. 1848) with Henryk Wieniawski’s brother Josef. Their other collaborative venture is the concluding Grand Duo Polonais, Op. 8 (1852), a compendium of popular contemporary tunes. The two instruments vie for supremacy rhythmically and melodically in this three-sectioned work, bravura a due. The Polonaise is a flighty affair, polished and ornamented like a musical peacock, more than kindred to something by Gottschalk for piano.
I recall that Mischa Elman had an RCA LP devoted to Wieniawski (LM 1740), but it has not resurfaced on CD. In light of the dearth of Wieniawski solo pieces on disc–even his F# Minor Concerto is under-represented–this album by Janowski, with its rediscovered, brilliant pieces, will dominate the genre for some time.
— Gary Lemco