Friday, January 16, 2009

Acte Prealable, or, A Mighty Cold Day, Warmed by Music

It got down to -15 or so last night here, but I was warmed by anticipation--my postman left a note on my door informing me that a package was waiting for me at the post office. I bundled up this morning and walked there, breathing the metal-tasting air.

It was a bundle of CDs from Poland, a lovely New Year's present from Jan Jarnicki, the owner of the wonderful classical music label Acte Prealable. He sent me an email a month or so ago wishing me Holiday greetings and it was very nice of him to send this package along. My aquaintance with the label began back in 2005 with a shipment of review discs and the Elzbieta Sternlicht's wonderful performance of the intriguing piano works of Jozef Koffler and the also criminally under-appreciated piano pieces of Felix Mendelssohn's sister, Fanny.

Of the discs in this new packet, the only one I've had much of a chance to listen to is by not-yet-thirty-year-old Tomasz Kamieniak, who performs a selection of his own piano pieces, one of which was completed only this past year. The pieces are generally quiet and meditative, with elements of Philip Glass and Mompou. His Book of Illusions calls Schumann immediately to mind, in that three of the movements bear the title of "Sphinx," the customarily unplayed sections of Schumann's Carnaval that, spelled out in notes, contain Schumann's name and that of the hometown of his fiancee at the time.

Another of the discs features work by another young composer, Marcin Kopczynski, born in 1973. Many of these are piano pieces, performed by the composer, but we have guitar works, as well as pieces for piano and voice. This music, based on a brief casual listen, has more of an intellectual remove, closer to Mompou than Kamieniak is, but this could only be true of the first two piano pieces on the disc.

I was really glad to see the latest disc of Romuald Twardowski's works to be released by Acte Prealable. Reviewing discs has introduced me to quite a few active composers and Twardowski is among my favorites. His piano concertos have loads of vitality and movement, and his first piano concerto--as well as his concerto for violin--are included here. I've been listening to this disc as I'm typing this and this one is going to be fun to hear more of.

Theodor Leschetizky is a composer I don't know at all, but he was quite famous in his day, especially as a teacher, caving instructed--so the liner notes say--over 1200 pianists, including the handsome and wild-haired Ignacy Paderewski (composer and then Prime Minister of Poland), Artur Schnabel, and famous one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein (before he lost the arm in WWI). In an unusual move, there is a bonus track performed by Leschetizky himself, though he died in 1915--it is a restored recording of the composer reciting his artistic credo, transferred from an Edison cylinder recorded 102 years ago--almost to the day--on January 17, 1907. Speaking of cylinders, there is a wonderful website out there dedicated to the restoration and dissemination of ancient recordings well worth checking out--the Cylinder Preservation and Digitalization Project website--linked here.

Stay warm, everyone!

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