Thursday, April 15, 2021

A New Discovery

I just finished watching and listening to the online Canadian premiere of Juliusz Zarębski’s Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 34.


Juliusz who? You might well be asking this very reasonable question.


Well, he was a composer and pianist with a pretty impressive CV. Juliusz Zarębski was born on February 28th, 1854 in what would be today’s Ukraine. He studied piano and composition at the Vienna Conservatory from 1870 to 1872, and then at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, obtaining the title of free artist in 1873. More significantly perhaps were his years of private study with Franz Liszt, from 1874 to 1877, becoming one of the master’s favourite pupils. In 1880, Zarębski was appointed professor of piano at the Brussels Conservatory – he received a letter of congratulations from Liszt on his appointment. The promise of a brilliant career and happy family life ended when he contracted tuberculosis and died just a few years later at age 31.


Like his compatriot Chopin, Zarębski’s musical compositions focus mostly on the piano. At the end of his short life, in 1885, he composed this masterful Piano Quintet in G minor. Liszt thought highly of his music, and worked actively to promote it. The G minor piano quintet does betray the influence of other composers, but the end result is a highly original late-romantic masterwork of chamber music, music of great yearning and tension. Unlike compositions of many 19th century piano virtuosi, this quintet is very much a genuine chamber music work for equals, and not a closet piano concerto with string accompaniment.


The Chopin Society of Atlanta and The Vancouver Chopin Society have put together a stellar ensemble of participants for this performance – the distinguished Silesian String Quartet and pianist Wojciech Świtała, an artist very much known for his playing of Chopin. The production team filmed the performance beautifully indeed, with varying camera angles that highlight the excitement of the playing as well as the interplay between musicians. The picture resolution is high, almost as sharp as that of a BluRay disc. The recorded sound captured very naturally the balance of the instruments, as well as the piano sound.


The performance is a deeply committed one. The musicians had obviously thought about the score thoroughly. The playing reveals the participants’ deep feelings for and understanding of the score. Świtała brilliantly rose to the many pianistic challenges – not the least of which is the fiercely difficult third movement - but managed at the same time to integrate his playing into the fabric of musical texture. 


The presenters have done the music world a great service in presenting this performance. I hope that this performance of Zarębski’s piano quintet will not only attract music lovers to the composer’s creations, but also musicians in taking up this work as well as the composer’s other scores.





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