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22 Mélodies sur les poèmes de Paul Verlaine (1900-1910)

Irène Régine Wieniawska (1879-1932) arr. David Jackson

Paul Verlaine (1844-1896)

During their itinerant and cosmopolitan lives, Poldowski and Verlaine explored and celebrated the culture of the European continent. Verlaine’s international exploits are well chronicled; less well known are the travels of our composer, Irène Régine Wieniawska. Born in Belgium to Polish and English parents, she was to study in France, and eventually die in London, a British subject. Though neither were to meet, the collaboration of a poet and composer united by a passion for the musicality of language guarantees, in Verlaine’s own words, ‘de la musique avant toute chose’ (music before everything). 

The combination of poverty, wealth, passion, and grief which both endured didn’t inhibit either from becoming celebrated masters of their chosen art forms; a factor perhaps in part responsible for their early deaths at the ages of 52 and 53. However, like so many female composers before and after her, Poldowski would suffer the fate of falling into obscurity. No justification can be given. Musicologists acknowledge that Poldowski’s Verlaine songs stand as equals to even the most celebrated settings of her male contemporaries. It should not be forgotten that her Verlaine settings outnumber those of Fauré, Debussy, and Ravel. Furthermore, from her selection of twenty-two poems, ten have only ever been set to music by Poldowski. A handful of Poldowski’s mélodies are occasionally performed, but never has the entire catalogue of twenty-two songs been recorded, nor has it been possible until now. The handwritten manuscript of Nous Deux escaped the pillage and destruction of the apartment of the Jewish pianist (and life-long friend of Poldowski) Lazare-Lévy during the occupation and was only discovered in 2004 by the musicologist Frédéric Gaussin. 

The question no doubt arises, if her compositions stand out as such fine examples of French mélodie, why should I feel the need to reimagine them? In rescoring Poldowski’s songs, I am paying homage to a practice Poldowski herself engaged in: she is known to have rescored her songs for small chamber ensembles, though none of these arrangements survive. My reimagining isn’t intended to offer a superior version of these forgotten songs, but by going above and beyond Poldowski’s musical premise, I offer a new perspective. The arrangements take inspiration from Poldowski’s Sonata for Violin and Piano (the first movement of which features on this disc arranged for trio), yet at times they are free flights of fancy. The diverse instrumentation offers rich extremities of tessitura, varieties of colour, overtones of jazz, waves of orchestral lyricism, and percussive violence contrasted with moments of steady calm. 

We delve more profoundly into her emotions whilst remaining faithful to the intimacy of her original compositions, so that today Poldowski can continue her travels, transporting both musicians and audiences to new horizons.

version française

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★★★★

« this beguiling recording»

The Times / September 2017

« The complete musician, Jackson is attentive to all the dimensions of playing: harmony, melody, equality of sound, quality of the tempi, and cohesion of the ensemble.  Strongly supported by the strings who are equally distributed, Jazmin Black-Grollemund, operatic, uses her superb timbre to support a clear diction and a vast range of nuances. »

La Lettre du Musicien

Poldowski et Verlaine en première mondiale à Paris 

October 2016

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A recording made possible through our supporters on commeon.com, and