Around “The Legend”: Piotr Janowski, the violin “legend of the legends”

July 2, 2014   |   MEDIA, ABOUT

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Review by Marcin Łukaszewski – “Ruch Muzyczny”, June 2014

In 2013, the Polish phonographic market gained a valuable three-CD album (nominated for the 2014 Fryderyk Award of the Polish Phonographic Academy), including archive recordings of brilliant violinist Piotr Janowski (1951-2008), published by the classical music recording company Musica Sacra Edition in co-production with the Piotr Janowski Foundation. The phonogram came out thanks to the initiative of pianist and chamber musician Joanna Maklakiewicz, privately the artist’s wife, who in the introduction to the album booklet writes as follows: “The release of this album was my main goal since my Husband’s death. When choosing the title I decided to use the word Legend because I associated this word with Piotr even before I met him. It is also the title of probably the most known work by Henryk Wieniawski, with whose music my Husband was very close throughout his whole life”.

The elegant, book-like graphic design (the work of Karolina and Artur Jerzy Filip) of the album beautifully complements the three CDs that it contains. The first of them offers the recordings of the 5th International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in Poznań (1967). Accompanied by pianist Zofia Vogtman, Janowski recorded Polonaise in A major, op. 21 and ScherzoTarantella in G minor, op. 16 by Wieniawski, as well as Capriccio in A minor, op. 1 No 24 by Paganini (transcribed for the violin and piano by Karol Szymanowski). They are followed by two solo performances, i.e. Sonata No 3 in C major, BWV 1005 by Bach and Sonata in B major, op. 1 No 5 by Geminiani, only to end with the second and third movements of Concerto in D minor, op. 22 by Wieniawski, with the accompaniment of the Poznań Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zdzisław Szostak.

Janowski’s competition presentations are soul-stirring. They prove that his art of performance can still be striking today and may constitute a valuable lesson for young violinists. The artist attracts attention with his brilliant interpretations, finesse, freedom of playing, creativity and impeccable intonation, which you will hear in his truly intense flageolets in Paganini’s Capriccio, brilliant and dramatic fugue, and singing Affettuoso in Geminiani’s Sonata, to name but a few. He endears with the charm and romantic depth of his interpretation of Romance, and freedom, lightness and romantic momentum in the finale of Concerto in D minor by Wieniawski. The both solo sonatas give testimony to the artist’s fully romantic approach to the Baroque music. In the 1960s, the echoes of the historically informed performance practice did not yet reach Poland. This does not stop you at all from relishing Janowski’s performance whose recordings prove that he did indeed deserve – at the very young age of only 16! – to win the 5th International Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition in Poznań.

The second CD containing various works for violin and piano features the recordings from the collections of the Polish Radio (from 1967, 1968 and 1970). Janowski is accompanied by Zofia Vogtman, Maciej Paderewski and Jerzy Lefeld. The CD presents Sonata in G minor, op. 1 No 10 by Tartini, Sonata in G major, KV 301 and Adagio in E major, KV 261 by Mozart, Tzigane by Ravel, Vocalise, op. 34 No 14 by Rachmaninov, Myths op. 30 by Szymanowski, Romanian Folk Dances by Bartók, and at the end Oberek No 1, probably most known for being a popular encore piece by Grażyna Bacewicz. Janowski captures attention with his melodious, full of simplicity play in the first movement or his brilliant virtuosity in the second movement of Tartini’s Sonata, as well as with the cheerfulness, elegance and charm of Mozart’s Sonata. He enchants us with his noble sound, depth of expression and  purity of intonation while in Ravel’s Tzigane – with his dark colours, so mysterious in expression. He plays the – not easy – initial solo with freedom and passion, delivers the theme with the piano in a light and danceable way while handling all the intricacies of this spectacular work on the one hand with absolute finesse and on the other hand in a feisty, nearly cocky way. The famous Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise gives a respite after the swaggering Tzigane and before the picturesque and poetic Myths by Szymanowski. Needless to say, the violinist enraptures with his beautiful cantilena and naturalness of phrasing. In the interpretation of the then 17-year-old artist (the record was made in 1968), Myths sound natural and light, paradoxically almost like Mozart’s Sonata. The violin remains in the foreground, but it is worth listening to the complicated piano part played freely by George Lefeld, who however is not an “accompanist”, but a full-fledged partner, a chamber musician. The recording is highly emotional. Its sound may not be, so to speak, preserved in the impressionist spirit, but – despite the fact that Myths come from the middle period of Szymanowski’s oeuvre (called the “impressionist” one) – it stems from the par excellence romantic spirit, which Janowski emphasizes with his deep, passionate and free interpretation.

The third CD contains the recordings from Janowski’s concerts in the US: two solo sonatas, in G minor, BWV 1001 by Bach and in E minor by Ysaÿe, and two piano trios, i.e. Dumky-Trio by Dvořák and Scherzo from Trio in D minor, op. 49 by Mendelssohn. Similarly to the recordings discussed above, Janowski’s perfect play may only evoke admiration. It consists not only of technical precision, impeccable intonation, pure, strong and noble sound or the play full of temperament in the both solo violin sonatas. With its full swing and violin pyrotechnics, Ysaÿe’s sonata in Janowski’s interpretation is delivered with a great depth of feeling and an overwhelming power of expression. In the both trios he is accompanied by Steven Doane (cello) and Rebecca Penneys (piano), who together with the violinist represent the New Arts Trio. It is not easy for such great individualists to form a chamber ensemble. This however does not apply to Piotr Janowski, who, as great an individualist as he was, was perfectly capable of playing chamber music by partnering up with other musicians, as evidenced in his recordings of Dvořák’s Trios, to name just one example.

It is also worth familiarizing yourself with the texts supplementing the album. They include a moving, personal introduction by Joanna Maklakiewicz in which she points out Janowski’s fascination with Wieniawski (“he is recognized to have been the most renowned contemporary interpreter of Henryk Wieniawski’s works”), and a memoir of the artist himself on his masters, particularly on Wieniawski. It is good that these recordings came to light. The title of the album, The Legend, captures its essence very well: Janowski was and shall remain a true legend of the violin. Speaking of legendary violinists, Karol Lipiński may be called a seasoned classic and Niccoló Paganini – a stormy romantic. Piotr Janowski seems to have combined the features of them both, supported by the romantic school of the violin play embodied within the authority of Wieniawski. Despite the patina of time and not the highest phonographic quality, the recordings are still impressive. Their historical value seems unchallengeable. They show how mature Janowski was an artist – already at such a young age.

Marcin Tadeusz Łukaszewski

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Piotr Janowski. The Legend
Musica Sacra Edition MSE 040-042, Piotr Janowski Foundation, 2013
Piotr Janowski – violin
Zofia Vogtman, Maciej Paderewski, Jerzy Lefeld – piano
New Arts Trio: Piotr Janowski – violin, Steven Doane – cello, Rebecca Penneys – piano
Poznań Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zdzisław Szostak