WIENIAWSKI Polonaise brillante, op. 21. Souvenir de Poznan. Kujawiak. Gigue, op. 3. La champêtre, op. 12/2, Chanson polonaise. Obertas, op. 19/1. Le ménétrier, op. 19/1. Rêverie. Le carnaval russe, op. 11 Ÿ Piotr Janowski (vn); Wolfgang Plagge (pn) Ÿ 2L Ÿ 2L2 (51:45)

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Wolfgang Plagge’s notes to 2L’s compilation of Henryk Wieniawski practically constitute an apology for a composer abandoned by a generation of listeners who denigrated his idiomatic virtuosity as trivial. Earlier, even so severe a critic as Carl Flesch had considered Wieniawski superior to Joachim in fire (although, like Moser, he remained suspicious of his brittle staccato, which he produced from the shoulder rather than the elbow, a method he supposedly discovered in a dream (both the Concertos and Étude, Le staccato, from the École moderne suggest that it must have been extraordinarily effective). And the greatest violinists of the first part of the century showcased their technical, tonal, and expressive abilities in his works. However showy, they’re perfectly tailored to the instrument, exploiting its resources even more adroitly than those of most of his contemporaries, including, arguably, Vieuxtemps. Nothing lies under the hand quite so comfortably, except (only possibly) Vivaldi’s or Sarasate’s works.

Piotr Janowski and Wolfgang Plagge play the pieces they’ve selected (at 51:45 they could have selected a few more, although 2L’s release constitutes only the first volume of a projected series of the complete works) with almost scrupulous attention to detail. They point the rhythms, many of them integral to the ethnic dances from which Wieniawski drew inspiration, and make generous but never distorting or obtrusive use of rhetorical pauses to punctuate dramatic moments. They’ve certainly taken care to flavor each of the works; but their performances lack some of the bigness that Wieniawski’s name suggests, even more than do those of Ernst, Lipinski, or Vieuxtemps. To be fair, Janowski does make some of the more substantial works, like the Polonaise in A Major, the two Mazurkas of op. 12, the one from op. 19, and Obertas assume larger proportions; and he concludes his program with a boffo reading of the clever and imposing Carnaval russe. And the recorded sound’s impression of respectful distance may be partly responsible. But real bigness results from the performer’s view of the works rather than from microphone placement. Stefan Stalanowski (Pavane ADW 7213), despite a sound even smaller than Janowski’s, occasionally speaks with an exalted rhetoric (although not so noble as Milstein’s (whose dashing recording of the First Polonaise from 1957, reissued on CD on EMI CDM 7243 5 66871 2 7, 22:3, amounts to an aristocratic tour de force) and Stalanowski included almost 20 more minutes of music! Other recordings of this repertoire suggest that Plagge’s note anticipating a Wieniawski renaissance may not simply express a vain hope. Levon Ambartsumian (somewhat brittle and unyielding to Wieniawski’s sweet ardor, on ACA CM20053, 21:2), Joanna Mądroszkiewicz (dashing but somewhat headlong, on MDG 603 0863-2, 22:6), Marat Bisengaliev (dashing, but with somewhat variable recorded sound, on Naxos 8.550744), as well as the always-virtuosic Ricci (perhaps the most commanding of all, on Unicorn-Kanchana UKCD2048) play some of the same repertoire. But a complete edition of Wieniawski’s works will reveal his versatility, fertile melodic imagination, and unique insight into the instrument’s physical challenges. And Janowski (who won the Wieniawski competition when he was only sixteen) possesses the rhythmic subtlety, the warm if not dark tonal glow, and the technical security to make such an investigation well worth following through its entire course. Recommended.

Robert Maxham
Nov/Dec 2002