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Hyperion Records

CDA67990 - Mlynarski & Zarzycki: Violin Concertos
CDA67990

Recording details: March 2013
City Halls, Candleriggs, Glasgow, Scotland
Produced by Stephen Johns
Engineered by David Hinitt
Release date: April 2014
DISCID: 760F3209
Total duration: 64 minutes 50 seconds

The Romantic Violin Concerto
Młynarski & Zarzycki: Violin Concertos
Allegro moderato  [10'18]
Adagio  [7'11]
Allegro  [7'23]
Allegro moderato  [10'02]
Allegro vivace  [8'01]

In this latest volume of Hyperion’s Romantic Violin Concerto series, we journey to Poland (in the company of a conductor from that country) for two concertos by Młynarski and two works for violin and orchestra by Zarzycki (who will be familiar to Romantic Piano Concerto collectors).

Lithuanian-born Emil Młynarski was the father-in-law of Artur Rubinstein and was appointed director of the Warsaw Philharmonic in 1900. He had a busy international conducting career which included the LSO in London, the Scottish Orchestra and the Philadelphia Grand Opera company. His Violin Concerto No 1 in D minor, Op 11, dedicated to Leopold Auer, was written in 1897 and won a prize in the Paderewski Composition Competition. Młynarski takes as his models the virtuoso works of Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski, and the main mood is a fresh, youthful lyricism. Surprisingly, after its initial success, this Concerto was not played again until Piotr Plawner took it up in 2011. His Violin Concerto No 2 was premiered by the Warsaw Philharmonic in April 1920, with Paweł Kochański as soloist and Młynarski conducting. The concerto has remained in the repertoire of Polish violinists.

Like most Polish composers, including Chopin and Młynarski, Zarzycki also wrote pieces in the form of the krakowiak, a fastish 2/4 dance from the Krakow region. It became popular in Vienna as the Krakauer, and in Paris as the Cracovienne. The Introduction et Cracovienne in D major, Op 35, was well liked by violinists in Zarzycki’s own time but amazingly was not recorded until the CD era. The Mazurka on the other hand is the composer’s best-known work and was recorded by Oistrakh, amongst others.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Poland, with no natural physical boundaries to defend, was often pulled this way and that by the tides of history, its borders ebbing and flowing. And although the Poles always possessed a strong cultural identity, many of their musicians ventured outside Poland for their training and sometimes even their careers. While some, such as Chopin, looked to the west for fulfilment, others were drawn to the east and the Russian sphere of influence. These opposing forces shaped the life of the great conductor Emil Mlynarski to a considerable degree.

Mlynarski was born in Kibarty, Lithuania, on 18 July 1870; and as an adult, until the upheavals of the Great War, he retired every summer to his wife Anna’s family estate in Lithuania. Having shown a striking aptitude for the violin, at ten he entered the St Petersburg Conservatory, studying violin with the Hungarian pedagogue Leopold Auer, composition with Anatol Liadov and orchestration with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Graduating with honours in 1889, for a season he played second violin to Auer in the Imperial Russian Musical Society Quartet and acted as deputy conductor of the Society’s orchestra. For three years he toured the Russian Empire as a soloist, also visiting Germany and England, before taking over Gustav von Friemann’s violin class at the Odessa Conservatory in 1893: his prize pupil was Pawel Kochanski, the outstanding Polish violinist of the next generation. In Odessa Mlynarski led a quartet and conducted the student orchestra. In 1897 he moved to Warsaw and the following March, replacing the ill Cesare Trombini, he had a triumph conducting Carmen at the Teatr Wielki: he was made Kapellmeister and became musical director on Trombini’s death, initiating a concert series by the opera orchestra at the theatre and the Town Hall. His ‘energy and enthusiasm’, as his son-in-law Artur Rubinstein put it, galvanized the music-lovers of Warsaw to support the building of the Filharmonja, with a large hall for symphony concerts and a smaller one for chamber music, and the creation of a symphony orchestra. In 1900 Mlynarski was appointed director and conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic and on 5 November 1901 he presided over the inaugural concert, with Ignacy Jan Paderewski playing his own A minor Concerto and works by Chopin, Moniuszko, Noskowski, Stojowski and Zelenski making up the programme. That same year Mlynarski directed the orchestra of the Concerts Colonne in Paris in a festival of Polish music.

Rubinstein, who first worked with him soon afterwards, saw Mlynarski as ‘one of the most attractive men I had ever met. He had strangely nonchalant ways, a soft melodious voice, courteous, aristocratic manners, and he appeared to be a rather too soft character for an orchestra conductor. But the minute he walked up to his podium and took the baton in his hand, his whole attitude changed. Erect and quiet, he held his orchestra under complete control with a minimum of gestures.’ Mlynarski left his opera post in 1903 and the Philharmonic in 1905, but in 1904–7 he directed the Music Institute and its orchestra, also appearing in Liverpool and Manchester. In 1905–6 he returned to St Petersburg and in 1907 he began regular appearances in London with the London Symphony Orchestra, introducing works by Stojowski and Karlowicz and becoming known as a conductor of Richard Strauss and Russian music—his love of Strauss was perhaps one reason why he retained the respect of the Young Poland movement. In 1910 he was made conductor of the Scottish Orchestra. He continued working in Britain well into the Great War and in 1915 persuaded Elgar to write his symphonic prelude Polonia. In 1916 his wife’s Lithuanian estate was overrun by the Germans and Mlynarski took his family to Moscow, where he conducted at the Bolshoi Theatre and organized symphony concerts—he was there when the 1917 Revolution erupted. Returning to Warsaw in 1918, he resumed work with the Philharmonic and in 1919 became director of the Conservatory, taking on a full teaching load of conducting classes, chamber music and the student orchestra. But as he also headed the Warsaw Opera, he had to give up teaching after three years.

During the 1920s Mlynarski returned to the Scottish Orchestra, premiered Szymanowski’s King Roger, oversaw Vienna and Prague revivals of Moniuszko’s Halka, and re-orchestrated that composer’s The Haunted Castle. In 1929 he went to Philadelphia to take the conducting course at the Curtis Institute, also conducting for the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company and giving concerts in Philadelphia, Washington and New York; but in 1931 he returned to Warsaw, stricken with severe arthritis. He still managed to work for a time—directing the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Warsaw Opera—but in 1933 was confined to a wheelchair. After much suffering, he died in Warsaw on 5 April 1935. Mary Louise Curtis Bok said in a memorial speech at the Curtis Institute that ‘Emil Mlynarski was one of the finest persons in the world’; and Karol Szymanowski wrote that he was ‘an exceptionally pure, honourable, good and obliging man, and a sincere friend’.

As a composer, Mlynarski was a Late Romantic and did not advance musical discourse beyond, say, Dvorák; but his themes and expert orchestration often distilled an affecting Slavic melancholy. Surprisingly, the name of Tchaikovsky was often invoked to describe his music, which was nothing like Tchaikovsky’s. His manifold activities prevented him from composing a great deal. Besides the two violin concertos, his most important works include an impressive F major Symphony, ‘Polonia’ (1910, dedicated to the Scottish Orchestra), and the opera Summer Night (1913, produced in Warsaw in 1924). He also had some success with short pieces for violin and piano.

The Violin Concerto No 1 in D minor, Op 11, ‘dedicated to his dear master and friend Monsieur Leopold Auer’, was written in 1897 and the following year won a prize in the Paderewski Composition Competition in Leipzig, which led to its publication. Mlynarski takes as his models the virtuoso works of Vieuxtemps, Wieniawski et al: Mendelssohn’s influence is seen in the brief opening tutti and the positioning of the cadenza a full 64 bars before the end of the first movement. The main mood is a fresh, youthful lyricism.

In the Allegro moderato, a calm tutti leads to an orchestral call to attention and the violin enters with a forceful theme; the second subject is quite fluid and a quieter subsidiary theme is derived from the opening. A passage imitating a dramatic gesture in Brahms’s Violin Concerto leads via another subsidiary theme to the cadenza—all written out, as befits a violinist-composer—and the various themes are then reviewed. The Adagio in B flat major is very lovely and was made available separately by the publisher. It is in ternary ‘song’ form, with a quiet theme introduced by the orchestra and taken up by the violin; after a contrasting section, the main theme returns. The orchestra begins the rondo finale, Allegro, with a vigorous theme before the violin dances off with a new idea, which alternates with other material, including a rather martial section, before the dancing theme triumphs in the final Allegro molto, ending the concerto in a blaze of fireworks and a very positive D major. Surprisingly, after its initial success, this Concerto was not played again until Piotr Plawner took it up in 2011.

The Violin Concerto No 2 in D major, Op 16, of 1916—written in the key Beethoven and Brahms chose for their violin concertos—has similarities to No 1 but is a subtler work in which the orchestra is more integrated with the soloist. The scoring, which adds three trombones and a tuba to the classical instrumentation of the First Concerto, shows how well Mlynarski knew the orchestra by this time—the writing for the woodwinds is especially beautiful. The Allegro moderato begins with a brief tutti announcing the first theme, on which the violin then elaborates, making good use of double-stops; the second theme is more lyrical. The orchestra plays a large part in the development, and the fully written-out cadenza continues that development, coming in the traditional position near the end of the movement. The Quasi notturno in B flat major, marked Andante and apparently based on a folksong (‘sur un thème populaire’), is often very lightly scored. The song theme is introduced by the orchestra and the violin enters in its low register, before taking off on an extended rhapsody which rises to considerable emotional climaxes without ever losing the nocturnal mood. The Allegro vivace finale is highly virtuosic: a brilliant folk-like group of themes alternates with broader, more lyrical episodes, one of them partially in nostalgic double-stops, before we hear an exciting parade of the themes and the concerto comes to an emphatic Presto close. The premiere was given by the Warsaw Philharmonic in April 1920, with Pawel Kochanski as soloist and Mlynarski conducting. The concerto has remained in the repertoire of Polish violinists, and it was fairly recently taken up by the English player Nigel Kennedy.

Aleksander Zarzycki (1834–1895), from Lwów in the Ukraine, studied piano in Berlin with Rudolf Viole and until 1865 had a considerable career as a virtuoso. He then settled in Warsaw, concentrating on composition and teaching. He was a founding member of the Warsaw Music Society in 1871 and its director from 1875; and he directed the Music Institute from 1879 to 1888. His name was kept alive by the G major Mazurka, which has been played and recorded by many violinists.

Like most Polish composers, including Chopin and Mlynarski, Zarzycki also wrote pieces in the form of the krakowiak, a fastish 2/4 dance from the Krakow region. It became popular in Vienna as the Krakauer, and in Paris as the Cracovienne. The Introduction et Cracovienne in D major, Op 35, was well liked by violinists in Zarzycki’s own time but amazingly was not recorded until the CD era. The Introduction has a brooding quality, owing to the strong pull of the relative minor key, B minor. In the catchy Cracovienne one can imagine the dancers jumping and stamping to imitate the dainty steps of the horses traditionally kept by denizens of Krakow.

Like his Cracovienne, Zarzycki’s Mazurka in G major, Op 26—dedicated to the Spanish violinist Pablo de Sarasate—has two main strains, the second of which provides a contrasting central section. It is memorable and virtuosic. Both pieces gain a great deal from having their original orchestral garb rather than piano accompaniment.

Tully Potter © 2014


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