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Brilliant performances of a wonderful mix of repertoire for violin and cello

This is a wonderful collection. It takes its title from Sofia Gubaidulina’s Rejoice! (Freue dich!), which accurately reflects my mood after hearing it. The sonata by Ysayë is for solo violin; the remaining works are for violin and cello duo.
The Bach Two-Part Inventions, of course, are keyboard works, but the arrangement by the present performers, violinist Maria Sławek and cellist Marcin Zdunik, is absolutely delightful, and the music is impeccably played. Their spot-on intonation is remarkable, and they interact with the same unity of purpose you would expect from the two hands of one player on a keyboard instrument. This is playing with expression and a variety of touch and color that maintains the listener’s interest throughout the 26-minute length of the set. The music becomes a true conversation between violinist and cellist, each playing off the other. As a different take on these 15 Inventions this is an extremely refreshing and engaging experience.
The Belgian violinist and composer Eugène Ysayë composed his brilliant set of Six Sonatas for Solo Violin in 1923. It is fair to say that after the Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas these are the most important works for solo violin in the repertoire (I know that some fans of Paganini will be upset with me for saying that). The Ysayë Sonatas require a monster technique but also great expressive ability. The second of the set was dedicated to Ysayë’s friend and colleague Jacques Thibaud. The first movement is based on the Prelude from Bach’s Partita No. 3. He titled it “Obsession,” because the movement is obsessed with the Bach original, which is contrasted with the medieval Dies irae theme as the two struggle for supremacy. The third movement is a particularly brilliant set of variations on Dies irae, requiring extraordinary virtuosity from the soloist. Sławek plays the sonata with stunning accuracy, total command, and exuberant élan. I have always loved an old Aaron Rosand recording of this work, but Sławek plays it just as convincingly and with better recorded sound. Her performance seems like a triumph to me.
Krzysztof Penderecki’s Chaconne in Memory of John Paul II was originally composed for string orchestra and later arranged by the composer for violin and viola. Sławek, in her excellent notes accompanying the disc, does not indicate who made the arrangement for violin and cello. She and Zdunik performed the work in 2013 in the presence of the composer, so it seems like a fair conjecture that they made the arrangement themselves, as in the Bach. The 6–minute duo is a moving, even grief-stricken, tribute.
Finally we come to Sofia Gubaidulina’s half-hour sonata, which was written for the celebrated Russian husband-and-wife team of Oleg Kagan and Natalia Gutman. Sławek writes that by studying the composer’s autograph drafts stored at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel, she learned that the work was conceived to reflect the layout of the liturgy: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Agnus Dei, and Gratias. Although this concept was abandoned in the final version, Sławek makes a case that knowing the original scheme can shape how the piece is performed. I was transfixed by this music and by the performance. The highlight is the third of its five movements, which at 10 minutes is by far the longest movement and the emotional core of the sonata. Entitled “Freue dich, Rabbi” (Rejoice, Rabbi), it represents the portion of the Gospel of St. Matthew in which Judas kisses Jesus. The movement opens with a deeply moving cello solo, starting in its upper register, that represents the emotions of Christ at this fatal moment. One does not have to directly relate to its biblical origins, however, to be moved by Gubaidulina’s music and the deeply felt performance given here.
This CD has everything that I look for in a recording. The mix of repertoire is conceived with imagination and thoughtfulness, the performances are technically brilliant and emotionally compelling, the recorded sound is perfectly balanced and natural, and the booklet contains extremely helpful notes (the only small caveat is that the English translation is a bit awkward). A very enthusiastic recommendation.
Henry Fogel
Fanfare magazine
Stunning instrumental technique, virtuoso charm and admirable diversity of interests distinguish this young artist.
Adam Suprynowicz
Paszporty Polityki 2009
Dębicz and Zdunik’s sensitive Bach chorale transcriptions have been punctuated with their own improvisatory responses to them, and the emotional and stylistic directions these have taken often carry us off to surprisingly profound new musical waters
Charlotte Gardner
The final concert aroused the strongest emotions, presenting a great 20th-century repertoire. The evening, and perhaps the whole festival culminated in the performance of The Protecting Veil by John Tavener, featuring young, outstanding cellist Marcin Zdunik as a soloist. His instrumental singing depicting the tears of Mary (...) had a real artistic and spiritual depth.
Monika Partyk
Ruch Muzyczny 10/2014
(...) fantastic cellist Marcin Zdunik evoked the greatest admiration
Józef Kański
Ruch Muzyczny 10/2014
H plays with a beautiful, powerful sound; intensively, emotionally and authentically
Tomasz Cyz
Paszporty Polityki 2008
In this combination of works by Bach and by some modern composers the latter are in various ways connected with the baroque composer. Maria Slawek and Marcin Zdunik show these different perspectives in the full range of technical requirements and stylistic expressions. In one inspired dialogue, they succeed in giving each work an individual character.
Uwe Krusch
18-year old Pole Marcin Zdunik fully charmed the audience at the prizewinners concert. With Luigi Boccherini's Sonata he celebrated a firework of virtuosity, projecting a beautiful, warm and tender sound. He is a poet of the cello.
E. von Reinhold
(...) the most beautifully singing cello by Marcin Zdunik stood out, which made many episodes of the Concerto appear in a completely new light. Zdunik is undoubtedly one of the greatest talents among our young cellists (...)
Józef Kański
Ruch Muzyczny, 12.07.2009
Marcin Zdunik's version of the Paganini Caprices 13-24 for violin and cello is sensational: an independent, witty and equally virtuosic cello part turns the supposedly well-known pieces into a completely new, impressive musical experience:
Stringtime NiederRhein, August 2007
He treated his instrument as a medium capable of expressing the dramatic complexity of the musical and human world.
Małgorzata Komorowska
Ruch Muzyczny
His interpretations were always rhetorically refined, with perfect intonation. Fascinating is how easily he realizes his musical ideas, how luminously and tenderly can he cooperate with his cello.
Dominik Połoński
Ruch Muzyczny, 2007
Marcin Zdunik played brilliantly. Excellent technique, inexhaustible energy, fantastic timing in music and admirable care for intonation are, moreover, permanent features of his playing. The interpretations were well thought out; the soloist played with humility, at the same time showing a whole range of affects, in Baroque music so important!
Urszula Gutowska
Ruch Muzyczny
Marcin Zdunik surely deserves the prize for the most beautiful sound in Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations, as well as that for the greatest sound fantasy, deep musical maturity and superb technique.
Julia Gaß
Ruhr Nachrichen 13. 10.2008
For long have I not listened to a recording, that would project as much of energy inspired by the music by Johann Sebastian Bach as the newly released album published by two young Polish musicians - Aleksander Dębicz and Marcin Zdunik. (...) "We want to reach for a deep expression" - young artists claim in the short promo movie of "Bach Stories". And one has to admit they succeed. (...) Dębicz and Zdunik paint a different picture with every piece using various means of expression and styles.
Michał Szułdrzyński
Young cellist with phenomenal sensitivity, musical imagination and technical abilities. He is not merely a performer, but a creative artist, presenting frequently his own, masterful transcriptions and compositions (splendid arrangement of Paganini's Caprices, Bach Violin Sonatas and M.Ravel's pieces). Winner of many international competitions and a star of concert halls around the world. His playing is full of beauty, wisdom, and - what is he most important - truth.
Adrianna Ginał
Paszporty Polityki 2009
Both the performance and the arrangement of Paganini's 15 Caprices (no. 9-24) deserves an applause. Marcin Zdunik turned out to be not only a superb virtuoso of the cello, but also an equally sensitive composer with unlimited creativity. His Paganini Caprices are sometimes completely new compositions (...)
Stanisław Olędzki
Ruch Muzyczny, February 2008
Marcin Zdunik] (...) played one of Tchaikovsky's most-performed compositions in his own original way. His version of Variations was full of internal energy, and at the same time extremely elegant and subtle. Beautiful color of the sound, impressive dynamics or excellent technique - these terms are only an attempt to translate the language of music into the sphere of emotions.
Dorota Gonet
Maria Sławek et Marcin Zdunik proposent leur choix subjectif des œuvres s’échelonnant du baroque au contemporain, un disque dans lequel ils impressionnent par la force du dialogue.

Maria Sławek_Marcin Zdunik_Rejoice_CD AccordMaria Sławek et Marcin Zdunik font partie des meilleurs instrumentistes de la jeune génération en Pologne. Ils ouvrent cet album avec les quinze Inventions à deux voix BWV 772-786 de Johann Sebastian Bach dans leur propre arrangement. Le cantor les élabora dans les années 1722-1723 pour un instrument à clavier en vue d’exercices didactiques ayant pour but – comme il le souligne dans le titre du manuscrit principal des Inventions et sinfonies – de faire apprendre aux élèves à jouer de façon mélodieuse. Dans leur interprétation, Sławek et Zdunik font preuve de ces qualités, et nous font réaliser à quel point ces miniatures relèvent de l’art d’improvisation. Le violon n’arrête pas de dialoguer avec le violoncelle. Dans chaque Invention, c’est le « petit frère » violon qui entonne la mélodie, suivi par son « collègue grave » le violoncelle. Tous les deux se complémentent, s’imitent, mais également, par instants, ne manquent pas de se disputer. Par une sonorité noble et majestueuse, Marcin Zdunik établit un contrepoint idéal à la partie donnée par Maria Sławek avec autant d’ardeur que de poésie. L’articulation cristalline des chambristes, leur régularité de la pulsation, ainsi que leur maîtrise du vibrato font de leur lecture un régal.

Dans la Sonate pour violon solo op. 27 n° 2 d’Eugène Ysaÿe, dont la structure harmonique relève du motif de la séquence Dies irae, Maria Sławek confirme qu’elle est une musicienne intelligente, sensible à la diversité des rythmes (pulsatoires) comme à la pureté du ton. Sa démonstration se voit axée sur le côté lyrique de cette composition plutôt que sur la virtuosité. Les mouvements Malinconia : Poco lento et la Danse des ombres : Sarabande (lento) nous font savourer toute une palette d’ambiances moroses et nostalgiques, tandis que le finale (Les Furies : Allegro furioso) est d’une intensité douloureuse. Tout au plus aurait-on souhaité percevoir un peu plus de sensualité et de cohérence narrative.

Dans la Ciaccona in memoriam Giovanni Paolo II de Krzysztof Penderecki, Maria Sławek et Marcin Zdunik nous font découvrir des espaces sonores et harmoniques d’une force dramatique jusqu’alors inconnue pour cette partition initialement façonnée pour orchestre à cordes. La puissance de leur interprétation est due au dialogue, par lequel ils nous plongent dans un climat de désespoir. Leur jeu est aussi raffiné que décisif, et aussi direct qu’immatériel. Les aigus tranchants du violon contrastent avec les graves charnus du violoncelle, et font de cette exécution une sorte de méditation se transformant en une prière d’un être révolté.

Une autre prière, fervente et suppliante cette fois-ci, mélangée avec des plaintes et des soupirs, est palpable dans la Sonate « Freue dich ! » de Sofia Gubaidulina, une œuvre très complexe, écrite en 1981 pour Oleg Kagan et Natalia Gutman, en cinq mouvements, dont les titres respectifs ont des connotations religieuses. Le titre de toute la partition, « Réjouis-toi ! », évoque la recherche par la compositrice, une chrétienne orthodoxe déclarée, de la présence de Dieu dans sa vie. Du point de vue des croyants, cette recherche est censée permettre de connaître la vérité et de vivre en harmonie avec le monde qui les entoure, ce qui constitue, à son tour, la source de leur joie. L’opposition entre l’intérieur et l’extérieur, entre l’espace réel et l’espace mystique, de même que la double nature de l’être (terrestre ou divine), se font entendre à travers des différents moyens de composition et dans des sonorités totalement disparates et diversifiées, comme par exemple l’équilibre entre les sons naturels et les harmoniques. Ces sonorités sont explorées également par l’intermédiaire de glissandos, de trilles, de pizzicati, de trémolos ou, principalement, d’accords dissonants. L’expressivité assez austère et économe quoique parfois flamboyante, et surtout la précision rythmique et articulatoire, assurent à cette interprétation toute sa suggestivité et son attrait.

Voici un disque très intéressant, renfermant des œuvres rarement jouées dans des exécutions pleinement appréciables.
Maciej Chiżyński
Res Musica