The Pearls of Polish Music - Zarebski

The Pearls of Polish Music - Zarebski

BeArTon  CDB036

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber

Zarebski: Piano Quintet Op. 34, Roses and Thorns Op. 13, Grande Polonaise Op. 6

Wojciech Switala (piano)
Royal String Quartet

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Reviews (1)

Review by John Miller - March 13, 2008

Most countries have a list of composers who fell into relative obscurity, often for the simple reason that their work was simply not good enough to survive. This has been particularly true for composer-virtuosos, whose compositions are often shallow display vehicles. Here is an exception: Poland's Juliusz Zarebski wrote late Romantic works of world class, but is poorly-known even in his own country.

Zarebski was born in 1854. He studied in Vienna and St Petersburg, became a favourite pupil of Liszt, developed a considerable concert career of his own, then was appointed Professor of Piano at the Brussels Conservatory. He died of tuberculosis in September 1885, only 31 years old; his promising career as a composer abruptly terminated.

Although a late Romantic, he had a distinctive voice of his own; he was an excellent melodist but was also adventurous in harmony and rhythm, not only anticipating impressionism but also developing the avant garde late style of his mentor, Liszt. BeArTon have placed three of his most important works on this disc, illustrating his range both as composer and performer. The master-work here is the Piano Quintet in g minor, his last major composition. Without doubt it ranks among the quintets by Schumann, Brahms, Dvorák, Franck and Fauré, and I would add that it looks forward to Shostakovich and even the late chamber music of Elgar. Zarebski knows exactly what he wanted to say in this work, and he is concise but wonderfully expressive and inventive.

There are a handful of recordings of the Quintet, but this performance would be hard to match. The full-blooded commitment and skill of the young Royal Quartet with pianist Wojciech Switala fully exploits the work's great sweep with glorious warmth and spirit. They are aided by a magnificently realistic high-definition PCM recording in a Polish Radio studio, in which the quintet sound blossoms without excessive reverberation. Polyhymnia carried out the DSD mastering onto SACD, preserving the timbral qualities and particularly rich sonority of the piano. A welcome touch is the inclusion of photos of the recording team joining those of the session in the informative booklet.

The solo piano takes over the other works of Juliusz Zarebski on this disc. Roses and Thorns (Op. 13) is also a 'late' work, composed during his last struggle with tuberculosis. The cycle of 6 miniatures represents the experience of love and its emotions. The first is Debussian, delicate and fragile, the second, Presto con fuoco, fulminates in an extraordinary display of virtuosity, nearly a Lisztian Transcendental Study in its own right. Number 3 is wistful and self-communing, with advanced chromatic harmonies, whereas No 4 is an Allegro molto, expressing spring-like joy with sparkling freshness. Finally, No. 5 sums up these evanescent, transitory feelings in a flowing lyrical improvisation. An absorbing and delightful work.

The Grande Polonaise Op. 6 provides a good example of Zarebski's concert works. It begins quietly and unassumedly before easing into the Chopin polonaise model, with ribbons of delicate roulades ornamenting the main dance theme. This impressionistic and colouristic music then goes beyond Chopin and becomes a Polish Rhapsody, full of virtuoso pianistic fireworks, which Wojciech Switala fires off with great aplomb.

Zarebski's Piano Quintet has been a stunning discovery for me, and the disc keeps finding its way back into my player. This piece alone more than deserves its place in the chamber music canon, and the piano music should be better known too, although it takes pianists of considerable skill to play it.

BeArTon's on-line shop at gives an easy way to buy their SACDs and CDs in either euros or dollars; they are very reasonably priced and inexpensive international mailing is cetered for.

Copyright © 2008 John Miller and


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