Pump Out the Music!

Virtuoso accordionist Wiesław Ochwat (above) teamed up with maestro Maciej Tworek and the Sinfonietta Cracovia ensemble to record two new concertos for accordion and orchestra for the Opus label (86 | 2022). Their CD features Maciej Zimka’s Concerto for Accordion and Chamber Orchestra and Mikołaj Majkusiak’s Concerto In Between for the Quarter-tone Accordion and Chamber Orchestra. Both composers represent the generation of the millennials born in the 1980s and their concertos (written during the past few years) give much prominence to the accordion, an instrument that has certainly experienced a renewed interest from performers and the public worldwide.

In addition to his professorship at the Kraków Music Academy, Maciej Zimka is also himself a prize-winning virtuoso accordionist. Mikołaj Majkusiak is, likewise, an accomplished accordionist and composer of the well-known Concerto Classico for accordion and orchestra. Majkusiak’s work for the quarter-tone accordion originated with Wiesław Ochwat and his collection of accordions that included this rare instrument.

History Through Biographies

Also in February 2023, two rare volumes were added to the PMC library thanks to a donation by Prof. Dr. Jarosław Rabiński at the John Paul II Catholic University in Lublin. The University’s Centre for Research on the History of the Polish Government-in-Exile just published the first volume of Słownik biograficzny polskiego państwa na uchodźstwie [Biographical dictionary of the Polish State in exile], edited by Jarosław Rabiński and Michał Dworski.

This volume lists members of the first and second National Council of the Republic of Poland with over fifty biographical entries in total. Among them are such important historical figures as the pianist and statesman Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the World War II chaplain for the Anders Army, Archbishop Józef Gawlina, émigré writer and journalist Stanisław “Cat” Mackiewicz, and Poland’s Second Republic parliamentary deputy, General Lucjan Żeligowski, among others.

From the same donor we received the January 2022 issue of The Exile History Review, also published by the Lublin’s Catholic University Centre for Research on the History of the Polish Government-in-Exile. Therein are several scholarly articles (in English) relating to the 1956 Revolution in Hungary, the KGB’s efforts to use émigré organizations in Lithuania, and youth movements during communist times in Central Europe.

Ryterband Recommended!

Ryterband + Eisele family
The widow of composer Roman Ryterband, Clarissa Ryterband (center), with her daughters Astrid Ryterband (left) and Diana Eisele (right), son-in-law Robert Eisele (far left) and granddaugher Marissa Eisele (far right)

Diana Eisele, Polish Music Center’s longtime friend and supporter, came by the PMC in late February for another visit, bearing more gifts (and bringing some sweets for the afternoon tea). This time Diana donated to the PMC sound archive two recordings featuring music by her father, Roman Ryterband.

The first is a historic recording of the “Ryterband Celebration Concert” held in Łódź in November 2019. Part of the celebrations of Ryterband’s 40th death anniversary, the concert featured such noted performers as the Cracow Duo (Jan Kalinowski, cello and Marek Szlezer, piano), pianists Piotr Różański and Wilhelm Pilch, guitarists Tomasz Fechner and Maciej Staszewski, violinist Tomasz Król, harpist Amelia Tokarska, organist Krzysztof Urbaniak, as well as the Łódź Music Academy Choir under the direction of Dawid Ber and Maria Hubluk-Kaszuba.

The 30 November 2019 concert at the Łódź Music Academy opened in a joyous mood with several of Ryterband’s choral works, including Let’s Praise the Lord, Let’s Hail the Lord, Raise Your Heads, O Gates, and Two Sonnets (based on texts by Shakespeare): Some Say Thy Fault is Youth, and Music to Hear featuring the Academy Choir and organist Krzysztof Urbaniak. Trois Ballades Hébraïques were stylishly performed by violinist Tomasz Król and guitarist Maciej Staszewski. They were followed by pianist Wilhelm Pilch who delivered an authoritative performance of Ryterband’s complex and challenging Sonata in D for Piano. Guitarist Tomasz Fechner was next in an engaging performance of Sonatina for Guitar, Ryterband’s last completed work which Fechner prepared for publication just before the concert. The elegant virtuoso touch was quite evident in Amelia Tokarska’s rendition of Deux Images for Solo Harp and the concert ended with Jan Kalinowski and Marek Szlezer presenting a deeply-felt interpretation of Ryterband’s poignant Triptyque contemporain for piano and cello.

The composer’s family was represented at the concert by Bob and Diana Eisele and their children, Marissa and Nick, who travelled to Poland for the first time in order to visit Ryterband’s hometown of Łódź and see Warsaw, where he studied in the 1930s. One great and especially welcome surprise for the guests and the public assembled at the Academy’s concert hall was Clarissa Ryterband’s video message played for the audience before her husband’s music began to fill the space. Unable to travel to Poland due to her advanced age, the composer’s widow nonetheless gave a spirited address that also included some phrases in Polish that won the hearts of all present at the event.

Another CD we received from Diana Eisele, RyterbandThe Journey, is a recently-released CD with pianist Anna Kijanowska assisted by violinist Ania Filochowska, cellist Ari Evan, guitarist Paul Cesarczyk, and the Silesian Chamber Orchestra led by Małgorzata Kaniowska. This DUX 1721 CD is devoted exclusively to works by Roman Ryterband, including: Three Nocturnes for Piano (composed between 1939 and 1941), Triptyque contemporain for cello and piano (a work dating from 1944), Three Piano Preludes (1944-1945), Trois ballades hebraïques for violin and piano (1946), Song of the Plains of Poland for violin and piano (1944), Concerto for Piano, String Orchestra and Harp (1948) and Sonatina for Guitar (1978).

Most of the works on this release date from the early years of Ryterband’s activity as a composer. Interned in Switzerland during World War II, he managed to escape the Holocaust—a fate that unfortunately was not shared by most of his family in Łódź. Several of his compositions from the war years express Ryterband’s anxiety about the future of mankind, made clear in the music and the composer’s notes to his Triptyque contemporain. His affinity for Jewish folklore and traditions is on full display in Trois ballades hebraïques, a work that also exists in a version for violin and harp. Songs of the Plains of Poland is a lyrical memory of his lost homeland, while the short, one-movement Concerto for Piano, String Orchestra and Harp (also referred to as “Concertino” by the composer), proves Ryterband’s impressive credentials as an imaginative piano virtuoso. The last piece on this CD is Ryterband’s last composition, a complex and challenging Sonatina for Solo Guitar completed shortly before Ryterband’s death in 1979.

This recording elicited a favorable “Sélection ClicMag!” mention in the February 2023 issue of the French magazine Clic Musique!, devoted to reviews of classical, jazz and world music. Their recommendation of the DUX 1721 CD begins with a short bio of the composer and notes that “most of the [recorded] works were composed during the war and are suffused with melancholy,” adding that “one of the Piano Preludes is dedicated to Ryterband’s brother Stanisław, a Holocaust victim.” The reviewer, Jérôme Angouillant also felt the “intense and tormented lyricism of Triptyque contemporain that also exorcised the war’s dark years” and summed up his impressions by stating that the recording features “really good music supported here with proof of its merits.”

[Sources: press release, clicmusique.com]