After the 2004 release of Grzybowski’s first solo CD, Dialog, juxtaposing works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Alban Berg, Pawel Mykietyn, Arnold Schönberg and Pawel Szymanski, (Universal Music Polska), critics raved:
· “His interpretations of Bach, Berg, Schönberg, SzymaÅ„ski and Mykietyn show the touch of genius! There are certainly none today to equal his readings of Bach! (...) How refreshing and exciting it is to be in the presence of such great art of interpretation, akin to a genius!” (Bohdan Pociej).
· “The performance of Berg’s youthful Sonata and Schönberg’s Sechs kleine Klavierstücke could easily stand alongside the recordings of Gould or Pollini.” (Marcin Gmys).
These exorbitant expressions of praise were seconded by attendees of the Santa Monica recital including composer Walter Arlen, the founder of the music department at Loyola Marymount University and for 30 years the most influential music critic of the Los Angeles Times. After the concert, he stated, “this was the best pianist I have ever heard in my life.” His praise was seconded by another listener, Howard Myers: “Maciej is a phenomenon, a marvel, a miracle, a special kind of genius.” The belief in Grzybowski’s exceptional talent is shared by the Director of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, PaweÅ‚ Potoroczyn: “He is more than just a talented pianist – he is both a virtuoso of the highest order and a great musical personality. The resultant unique combination is that of an uncommon musical genius that fully justifies comparing him with such masters as Glenn Gould or Maurizio Pollini.”
While admitting to a personal bias towards someone who has dedicated years of his life to the music of PaweÅ‚ SzymaÅ„ski, one of the greatest Polish composers who ever lived (as it will become apparent in 50 years, when the dust settles and musical diamonds will be found in the sea of ashes), I had no doubt that by bringing Maciej Grzybowski to California, I offered our audiences a special treat. His recital exceeded even my already sky-high expectations. First the program: arranged in two distinct parts, pairing composers of different generations in a surprising dialogue of musical ideas.
The youngest of the composers featured by Grzybowski was PaweÅ‚ Mykietyn (b. 1971), his colleague and co-founder of the Nonstrom Ensemble where he has played the clarinet. In an entry on the Polish Music Information Center’s website affiliated with the Polish Composers’ Union, Mykietyn’s style is described in the following way: “The composer ostentatiously applies the major-minor harmonies, introducing tonal fragments interspersed with harmonically free sections. He also makes use of traditional melodic structures, transforming them in his own individual manner. Mykietyn could be described as a model postmodernist, deriving his inspiration as well as material from all the available sources without any inferiority complex.” These words could well be applied to the virtuosic and wistful Four Preludes (1992) that opened the program with their contrasting moods, textures and tempi.
Grzybowski followed the postmodernist Mykietyn with Twelve Folk Melodies by the dean of Polish composers of the 20th century, Witold LutosÅ‚awski (1913-1994). Commissioned by PWM in 1945, and elevating folklore to the realm of high art (in a preview of the official ideology of „socialist realism“ of 1948) these little gems show how unimportant is the ideology or context for a great compositional talent. The popular melodies of Hej, od Krakowa jadÄ™ [Hey, I come from Cracow], Na jabÅ‚oni jabÅ‚ko wisi [An apple hangs on the apple tree], or Gaik [The grove] were set to music in a sophisticated harmonic style, reminiscent of Bèla Bartók.
Under Grzybowski’s fingers, these charming miniatures sparkled with a caleidoscope of colors and rhythms. The pianist brought out the complexity of inner voices in seemingly simple pieces and endowed folk melodies with an aura of nostalgia and drama. In a stroke of genius, Grzybowski followed the folk arrangements with an entirely hypnotic and modernist reading of Drei Intermezzi, Op. 117 by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). A standard in every music theory textbook on Schenkerian analysis, Drei Intermezzi could be heard as small interludes only in comparison with Brahms’s majestic symphonies. Composed in 1892, the intermezzi (No. 1 in E-flat major, No. 2 in B-flat minor and No. 3 in C-sharp minor) transverse cosmic landscapes of feeling evoked in Rainer Maria Rilke’s timeless poem, An Die Musik.
The finale was indeed “grand” - a monumental rendering of Valses nobles et sentimentales by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937). In 1906, Ravel started his “waltz” project, culminating with the 1919 publication of the orchestral suite, La Valse. Inspired by the noble and sentimental waltzes by the Viennese Franz Schubert, Ravel published a suite of eight pieces for piano in 1911 and followed them with orchestral versions a year later. The waltzes are not separated into distinct “noble” and “sentimental” sections; it is up to the listener to decide what is what. The pieces, in contrasting tempi, span the whole expressive trajectory for which the words are too limited to give the music full justice. An unusual selection to close a solo recital, the suite ended in a slow tranquil dissolution into silence.
After a well-deserved standing ovation, the pianist relented and added a melancholy and thoroughly modern version of a Scarlatti’s sonata as an encore to the evening’s inspired and inspiring program. One thing is certain: the name recognition problem mentioned at the beginning should be resolved, once for all, in the case of Maciej Grzybowski: just go to every concert of his, and if you cannot go, buy his CDs.