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CD Review: Warsaw Accordion Quintet

Artists and Instruments:

Jerzy Jurek, artistic director & 1st accordion; Andrzej Zielinkski; Adam Zemla; Slawomir Rataczyk; Waldemar Dubieniecki

Zero Sette Accordions


Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni: Adagio in g minor
Johann Sebastian Bach: Organ Concerto in a minor (after Vivaldi)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Overture from the opera Le Nozze di Figaro
Wladislav Solotarjov: Partita No. 1
Andrzej Krzanowski: Studium V for 5 Accordions
Aram Khatchaturian: Waltz from the suite Masquerade
Aram Khatchaturian: Saber Dance from the Third Gayeneh Suite

Total time: 57:33
Release date: 1990

Label: Prokordeon/Klaus Werner CD1001
Address: 3 Hannover 1
Rambergstrasse 7

Review by Gregory A. Vozar:

KONTRASTE is an aptly named album from the Warsaw Accordion Quintet's blue against white silhouette on the cover to the range and variety of music they have recorded here, contrast is the key. This is not a contrast of polarity or musical black versus white; it's about the colors, shades and hues of stylistic differentiation. Three times the Quintet dips into the concert repertory and has come up with three broadly different musical paths. What ties their talented efforts into a whole is their chosen instrument of expression: the accordion.

The first two offerings are transcriptions from the High Baroque. Those familiar with the opus of J. S. Bach (1685 - 1750) will recognize the A Minor Concerto for Solo Organ, this version arranged for accordion quintet. Bach's predilection for the Italian style is well known; this piece is his reworking of Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Violins, Strings and Continuo.

The Warsaw Accordion Quintet here follows Bach's precedent in transcription and turns out a fairly stylish performance of this piece. Here one finds reasonable tempos and clean, breath-like phrasing minus the run-on counterpoint too often thrust upon Bach and his contemporaries. Their arrangement, by leader Jerzy Jurek, is much more 'orchestral' in feel than an organ performance would be with its terraced dynamics. Unfortunately, there is one aspect of this piece that I do miss in transcription. Having heard several fine organists play this concerto, even the resources of five accordions, one of which is a bass instrument, cannot do justice to the lowest notes. The pedal reed stops of the classical organ lend a profundity and solidity to the music that is missing here.

Tomaso Albinoni (1671 - 1751) gave us the original sonata da chiesa from which the Adagio in G-Minor is an extract. The effect here is very orchestral and a bit heavy; it includes sudden, oddly-placed accordionist effects and bellows motion that, intentionally or not, imitates the bowing of strings. At over eight minutes in length it tends to be a bit weighty in spite of a gradual Bolero-like crescendo to emphasize the dramatic elements. Dumplings are a bit heavier than Italian pasta, and this Adagio needs just a bit less Slavic ballast!

The Overture to the opera, Le Nozze di Figaro by W. A. Mozart (1756 - 1791), is a complete Classical redemption. The nervous, scherzo-like character of this piece wants to burst right through the bounds of propriety! This free-reed treatment is as exciting and mischievous as amorous little Cherubino himself; it makes some orchestral versions sound down-right stodgy in comparison.

We next make a dramatic shift to contemporary works by two talented and, alas, short-lived Polish composers, Wladislav Solotarjov (1942 - 1975) and Andrzej Krzanowski (1951 - 1990). Here we truly enter the realm of concert music composed specifically for the accordion.

Solotarjov's Partita No. 1 was originally composed for solo accordion, but we hear it as arranged for the full Quintet by member Adam Zemla. Considering the broadly-scaled, organ-like tonal canvas upon which it is painted, this expansion of musical forces benefits the piece. This group of musicians excels at performing together, here and throughout the album. They have increased the potential size and weight of this composition without shackling it in any fashion.

The opening Allegro of the Partita is really a rhapsodic toccata, at times oddly reminiscent of Buxtehude's extemporaneous style of keyboard composition. There follows a movement marked Grave that exploits wide-spread chords and the deep timbre of bass reeds as it sweeps to a bold, Widor-like climax which resolves into a quick and satisfying peace. The ensuing Andantino echoes the deep bass work of the prior movement, but offers a good deal of contrasting treble thematic material. The final heroic Presto ends the Partita in an intense burst of energy.

Krzanowski's Studium V was written for five accordions and is the only piece of the album which is not an arrangement or transcription. It is a tumultuous, contemporary virtuoso showpiece dedicated to the Warsaw Accordion Quintet by the composer, who tragically died without warning the day before the recording was made. The performance here is a memorial to their composer colleague and friend.

Occasionally, one will come across concert music that sounds better in transcription than in its original version; thus I find the Waltz from Masquerade and instantly recognizable Saber Dance by Armenian composer Aram Khatchaturian (1903 - 1978). One reason for this is undoubtedly the folk-character of the pieces themselves; they are accordionistic in nature: dance melodies supported by an pattern-repeating bass. Since the accordion's invention, it has been associated with plebeian entertainment and dance, and let no apology be necessary today when elevating either dance or instrument to the concert platform. Both Khatchaturian and the WAQ have here done a superb job! One can hear unfulfilled stirrings of the heart in the ever-turning strains of the waltz and almost see the polished flash of sharp steel in the Saber Dance.

This is definitely serious music making; one look at this group of Polish musicians sporting white ties, tails and accordions will leave no doubt in anyone's mind! No string quartet ever looked more sober in their formal concert attire. Something stirs in me when I listen to them; perhaps it is just my own Slavic heritage and background, but I like their warm, pervasive sound.

Overall, the Quintet's playing is sharp, together and secure; their collective and individual virtuosity, excellent. They always remain true to their artistic concept of a piece. From time to time, I find myself too conscious of changing bellows direction during their performance. Occasionally, the WAQ betrays a stylistic quirk of giving the bellows an extra push or tug at the outset of a phrase; this certainly is not a lack of control but probably a hallmark of their particular "school" of playing. Not totally objectionable, I personally prefer smoother mechanics and undetectable bellows movement (unless required by composer or for effect).

The booklet is clear and informative, although the notes are only in German. We are told on the cover that the music is played upon Zero Sette Accordions, although in their photograph they sport instruments that have the unmistakable Giulietti grille. Whatever the make of instruments, their sound is good; there is enough up-front presence to give clarity and immediacy to the recording and yet enough room ambiance to give a sense of space.

This is an excellent group of concert musicians giving us a solid musical 'sampler' of their broad range of performance abilities. From the evidence I have heard here, I would put any future releases by the Warsaw Accordion Quintet on my 'must buy' list!

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