Poldowski Reimagined: 22 Mélodies on the poems of Paul Verlaine

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COMPOSERS: Poldowski
LABELS: Resonus
ALBUM TITLE: Poldowski Reimagined
WORKS: 22 Mélodies on the poems of Paul Verlaine
PERFORMER: Ensemble 1904: Jazmin Black-Grollemund (soprano), Angélique Charlopain (violin), Jérémie Decottignies (double bass), David Jackson (piano & arrangements)
CATALOGUE NO: RES 10196

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Poldowski, more or less unheard since her death in 1932, is at last having a ‘moment’. And not before time. Her real name was Irène Régine Wieniawska – the daughter of the violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski; later she married an English aristocrat and became Lady Dean Paul. The androgynous pseudonym kept her anonymous and disguised, while paying tribute to her Polish background. And the quality of her music is such that her neglect seems positively strange. 

Outstanding creations among her Verlaine settings include a furious and impassioned setting of Spleen, and an unforgettable version of L’heure exquise which could give Reynaldo Hahn a run for his money (this heavenly song, which begins the disc, is probably responsible for the sudden flurry of interest). Her style is deeply of the French fin de siècle with vividly inventive harmonic colours. Ensemble 1904 include, too, one movement of a violin sonata, stylistically situated somewhere between Franck and Szymanowski: it would be good to hear the whole thing. 

The group performs the songs in chamber arrangements with violin and double bass, ‘reimagined’ by David Jackson, who argues that Poldowski herself would have offered similar versions. Though it might perhaps seem strange to reimagine something that most listeners have never imagined in the first place, the arrangements are salon-like, atmospheric and sympathetically performed, expanding the scale of the music – which is great-hearted enough to take it. Jazmin Black-Grollemund’s soprano is deep, rich and flexible, with warmth and colour in every register; the ensemble balances well with her expressiveness. Poldowski needs quality advocates, so this CD should do much to help her cause. More, please! 

Jessica Duchen