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‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’ reworked in the style of Beethoven is a stroke of genius - Classical FM By Maddy Shaw Roberts (May 2020)
If the world’s most famous nursery rhyme had been written by the father of Romanticism…

Classical music history tells of composers reworking the great music of their predecessors. From Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini to Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, some of today’s most famous classical works are variations on a theme by an earlier composer.

Now, here’s one for the modern day…

We stumbled across these exquisite variations on a theme of ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’, as if written by Beethoven (watch below).

Crafted by Polish Canadian pianist, Daniel Vnukowski, the reworking retains the main melody of the nursery rhyme, while bringing in all the characteristics that make up Beethoven’s great piano works.

You hear the building blocks of the main melody, which gradually gains more drama and tension, and as it goes on, becomes almost symphonic in power.

While in quarantine, Wnukowski is providing a free improvisation every Saturday at 12pm PT (8pm UK time, BST) on his Facebook page and his website.

We look forward to seeing his next rendering… ‘Twinkle twinkle’ in the style of Chopin, perhaps?

Pianist Wnukowski revives music of a neglected composer in impressive Carnegie debut - New York Classical Review By Linda Holt (May 2019)
Daniel Wnukowski brought a strikingly contemporary account of the Chopin Preludes and a revelatory reading of Karol Rathaus’s Piano Sonata No. 3 to the Weill Recital Hall stage Friday night. The event marked the young Polish-Canadian pianist’s Carnegie Hall debut.

Wnukowski selected a trio of demanding works spanning three centuries, which would test the intelligence, expressive abilities, and physical capacity of any keyboard artist. Wnukowski was more than up to the challenge, and his playing grew in depth, daring, and insight as the evening progressed.

The program began with Handel’s Keyboard Suite No. 7 in G minor, HWV 432. No concerns about period niceties here with a shy imitation of the harpsichord’s demure voice and short-lived vibrations. From the opening chords of the Overture, Wnukowski’s vision was bold and commanding, reveling in the expressive dynamics of the Steinway.

The Handel suite showcased the pianist’s easy strength and thoughtful interpretation through six movements concluding with a brilliant Passacaglia, striking in its variety of technical snares and expressive range. This was not a reading for purists, though Wnukowski kept the dynamic range on an even keel, avoiding fluctuations in volume.

The pianist has been a champion of music by mid-20thcentury Jewish composers impacted by Nazi persecution. One of the most striking of these is Karol Rathaus (1895-1954), whose oeuvre ranges from recital and chamber pieces to symphonic works and opera. That Rathaus’s work continues to be largely overlooked is tragic, so credit to Wnukowski for helping to remediate that neglect.

Composed in Berlin in 1927, at the height of the composer’s success in central Europe, the Third Sonata combines harmonic and rhythmic innovation within traditional forms. From the first languid but disturbing chords—a conventional seventh chord in the right hand and a tight knot of discord in the left—Rathaus grabs our attention and won’t let go. The work is singular in its energy, drive, variety of expression.

The music reflects the age’s German expressionism, the time of Nolde and Beckmann in visual art, Fritz Lang and Murnau in film. The diamond-sharp brilliance of Rathaus’s writing is affecting, with an aura of strain and an aching quality carries this work through four movements.

Wnukowski sought not so much to interpret as to reveal. His playing is not openly emotional, but grandly passionate, sweeping flawlessly through euphoric runs with rhapsodic abandon while being precise in phrasing and crisp articulation. Everything felt organic, with meaning and a sense of place.

Rathaus’s sonata closes with a complicated finale. A fugue melts into an andante balancing rapture with restraint. Wnukowski shepherds this peculiar but intriguing progression into a glorious concluding presto with jazz overtones—something like “Fascinating Rhythm” on steroids. This sonata suggests that Rathaus was unique in his time—neither traditionalist nor radical—and a great musical thinker whose work deserves to be heard more frequently today.

The final work on the program was Chopin’s set of 24 Preludes, Opus 28. Wnukowski is not shy about making this collection his own, and indeed he brought a distinctly 21stcentury take on one of the staples of 19thcentury piano literature.

This is big-sounding Chopin, not the whisper-soft style that the composer himself was said to prefer (perhaps because of ill health). Yet, the playing was never over-romanticized. Under Wnukowski’s touch, several of the Preludes—notably No. 22—expressed an almost neurotic frenzy and hysteria. At the same time, the pianist’s approach in the more lyrical, restrained selections—Nos. 11, 13, and 17—were clear and rigorous without succumbing to sentimentality.

While not to everyone’s taste, this assertive, fearlessly virtuosic Chopin style was filled with thoughtful exploration and a kind of questioning illumination. For his insight and daring, no less than his advocacy of a forgotten compatriot composer, Wnukowski is a pianist to watch.

Linda Holt writes about classical music for the Broad Street Review (Philadelphia) and, as L.L. Holt, is the author of two novels about Beethoven (The Black Spaniard and Invictus). She has a doctorate in arts and letters from Drew University and teaches humanities as an adjunct at Southern New Hampshire University and Thomas Edison State University. She is president of the Princeton Research Forum and a member of the Music Critics Association of North America (MCANA).

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The new Piano Six plants seeds for classical music in Canadian small towns - The Toronto Star By William Littler (October 2019)
As Angela Park prepared to fly out to Fort St. John, B.C. and Slave Lake, Alberta, I caught up with her fellow pianist Daniel Wnukowski on his way to Fort Frances and Rainy River in Ontario and Fort Nelson in B.C.

By the way, he had to fly into the United States, to International Falls, Minn., in order to drive back across the border to reach the airport-less Ontario town where I joined him for two concerts at Fort Frances High School.

The glamorous life, as Desiree Armfeldt sarcastically sings in the Steven Sondheim musical “A Little Night Music.” Yes, this really is what it is like being a member of Piano Six — New Generation.

If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because for ten years between 1994 and 2004 there was another Piano Six organized by Janina Fialkowska, bringing together six Canadian pianists to travel across the country giving recitals and school concerts, usually in small communities underserved by live classical music.

It was during these years, in his hometown of Windsor, that the teenage Daniel Wnukowski attended a master class with Fialkowska, who remained in touch, eventually inspiring him to revive her series.

What does it offer? You can judge for yourself on Oct. 22 in the St. Lawrence Centre’s Jane Mallett Theatre, when Music Toronto presents a gala featuring all six members of Piano Six — New Generation.

In addition to Wnukowski and Park there’s Marika Bournaki, David Jalbert, Ian Parker and Anastasia Rizikov, all of whom pursue individual solo careers apart from Piano Six, which usually involves a two- to three-day visit with a concert plus an outreach event provided by the artist at no extra cost.

In Fort Frances there was no recital; instead, the gentleman from Windsor played morning and afternoon concerts in a high school with a 46 per cent Indigenous population and banners of ten first nations hanging in its entrance hall.

Luckily for Wnukowski, the resident Yamaha had just been tuned for an evening performance of the school musical “Footloose.” Lacking the means to carry around a $200,000 concert grand, the members of Piano Six find themselves at the mercy of whatever keyboard happens to be available, even if it happens to be a pub-worthy upright.

Wnukowski knows the experience all too well. Earlier in his career, after winning a national Chopin competition, he toured villages throughout Poland, including one event that saw a leg fall off the piano.

The securely legged piano responded well in Fort Frances. So, for the most part, did the listeners, to the musician introduced to them as “a world famous pianist.”

Although Wnukowski had recently made a favourably reviewed New York debut in Weill Hall, Carnegie Hall’s smaller recital venue, the description was certainly generous. He introduced himself simply as a concert pianist: “That’s what I do for a living. I live out of my suitcase.”

He didn’t simply play. He engaged with the students, talking about the history of his instrument and inviting them to respond to basic questions, their reluctant answers reflecting their limited knowledge. As a reward for his effort, the vice-principal presented him with a school toque.

Driving back to his motel, he acknowledged the challenge of playing before such an unsophisticated public but insisted that “we have to build audiences for the future.”

And that, he went on, represents a core motivation for Piano Six. As a young pianist (he is now in his 30s), he received support in Canada for his studies. “One can only take so much,” he insisted, “and then it is time to give something back. Janina said that Piano Six was a highlight of her career.”

Wnukowski had reached a crisis point in his own career before launching his new venture, feeling he had run out of creative energy, living in Vienna surrounded by the ghosts of the past. “Vienna,” he says, “loves you when you are dead.”

The birth of his daughter apparently re-energized him: “I asked myself, do I really want to be a failed musician for her?”

So he returned to concert giving and recording and started picking up the phone, looking for colleagues with a similar belief in reaching out. The positive replies to his calls can be found Tuesday evening on the stage of the Jane Mallett.

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Rathaus Piano Music Vol. 1 - CD Review - Issue 43:1 of Fanfare Magazine By Myron Silberstein (Sept/Oct 2019)
Daniel Wnukowski strikes me as an ideal advocate for this music. He is more than equal to its technical demands, and he brings subtle gradations of dynamics and shading to what could easily become an overwhelming welter of sound. More importantly, Wnukowski communicates the emotions within the music. I was moved at several points throughout the recital. Add Georg Burdicek’s expert sound engineering, which captures the full dynamic and color range of the Bösendorfer Imperial, into the mix, and this recording is a definite keeper. It is also a crucial addition to the library of anyone interested in interwar German music, Jewish composers, or music that packs an emotional wallop.

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Rathaus: Piano Pieces I - American Record Guide By Bruno Repp (July/August 2019)
These technically demanding works are played to the hilt by the Polish-Canadian Daniel Wnukowski. The booklet contains an essay by Michael Haas (producer of Decca’s Entartete Musik series and author of a fine book on Jewish composers banned by the Nazis), who points out that Rathaus’s earliest compositions were in a more conventional and accessible style. Regarding the present works, Haas aptly speaks of “abrasive Expressionism” and finds the sonata “brooding”, “apocalyptic” and demanding “unremitting brutality” from the pianist. It is to Wnukowski’s credit that he conveys the brutality without seeming brutal himself.

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Forgotten by his own desire? - ConcertoNet.com By Roman Markowicz (February 24, 2019)
New York
February 21 & 24, 2019

February 21, Center for Jewish History
Karol Rathaus: Sonata for piano No. 2, Op. 8 (US Premiere) [1] – Sonata for clarinet and piano, Op. 21 [2] – Suite for violin and piano, Op. 27 [3]
Leo Kraft: Seven Hebrew Songs [4]
Max Kowalski: Fünf Jüdische Lieder [5]
Robert Weintraub [4, 5] (baritone), Charles Neidich [2] (clarinet), David Jolley [4] (horn), Samuel Katz [3] (violin), Donald Pirone [2], Lin Li Weintraub [4, 5], Daniel Wnukowski [1, 3] (piano)

February 24, LeFrak Hall, Kupferberg Center for Arts at Queens College
Karol Rathaus: Louisville Prelude, Op. 71 (New York Premiere) – Concerto for piano and orchestra, Op. 45 – Merchant of Venice (arr. Ariel Davydov, World Premiere) – Symphony No. 2, Op. 7 (US Premiere)
Daniel Wnukowski (piano)
The Orchestra Now, Leon Botstein (conductor)

When Karol Rathaus died in New York nearly 65 years ago, the obituaries supposedly mentioned him as an esteemed and even beloved professor of composition at Queens College. Oh yes, he was also the author of several compositions performed in the United States. But not much was mentioned about the years before he came to the U.S. or about the offer of a teaching position 1940 at the then newly-opened city college in Flushing. For that scant information the blame belongs not only to the obituary but to the deceased himself. Allegedly, he never mentioned to his students his pre-war activities or his fame as the one of the most promising young composers active in the 1920’s and 1930’s in Austria, Germany and later in France and England. Today the music building at Queens College bears his name but his compositions are still rarely performed even though, as we witnessed during the recent Karol Rathaus Festival organized by that college, some had received American, or even world, premieres.

This mini festival – two full length concerts, a lecture and a master class – was the brainchild of two Queens College professors: Dr. Edward Smaldone and Dr. Lev Deych, assisted by such noted authorities as Michael Hass and top performers as the pianist Daniel Wnukowski. One could not overlook another important participant, Dr. Leon Botstein, President of Bard College, who prepared and conducted the symphony orchestra he established and oversees at Bard called The Orchestra Now (TON) in the final concert of orchestral compositions by Rathaus.

It is fascinating to delve into the rich and often dramatic life of a composer who is just recently beginning to be recognized as an American composer of Polish origin, though it was not always the case. Prior to these two concerts, the first one organized by The American Society for Jewish Music at the Center of Jewish History, and the second at the beautiful new LeFrak Concert Hall at Queens College, I had little knowledge of Rathaus’s work, having heard only the Piano Concerto and Polonaise symphonique op. 52. These two events made me appreciate this forgotten composer and be thankful that we heard his works in mostly excellent performances.

The chamber music program included three original Rathaus compositions from the 1920s as well as two song cycles by two other Jewish composers related to Rathaus either by fate – Max Kowalski (1882-1956) – or in the case of the American composer Leo Kraft (1922-2014) by the fact that he was Rathaus student and later, like his mentor, also a professor of composition at Queens College. Of Rathaus works we heard the Suite for Violin and Piano (also for violin and small orchestra), the solo Piano Sonata No. 2 and the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano.

During Rathaus’s lifetime the Suite for Violin and Piano (1929) enjoyed a great popularity with well-known violinists in several of the European major music centers. Unlike many of his earlier compositions, the Suite received a positive response even from critics as important as Alfred Einstein. Here we heard it with Samuel Katz, violin, and pianist Daniel Wnukowski in the first of his Festival appearances. Hearing the Suite, a work slightly less aggressive than the earlier Piano Sonata which followed, allowed us to see a subtle change of direction in the compositional approach of a composer who, as one of the most prominent students of Franz Schreker, started as a proponent of the Expressionistic School but in time moved away from its grinding, unforgiving style.

It is probably unavoidable that while listening to an unknown composer or repertory, we search for comparisons, for references, with works already known. Here one could envision a Bartók influence, a little blues from Ravel or the forcefulness of the Prokofiev Sonata in F minor composed a decade later! But it is an impressive score, written with a full confidence and assurance. Needless to say, the piano part is far from being an accompaniment, as Rathaus was by all accounts an excellent pianist.

The Piano Sonata No. 2, written either in 1923 or 1924, was only recently discovered in the Rathaus Archives at Queens College, where for decades it was misfiled. It was Daniel Wnukowski who first performed it in Europe, recorded it recently and offered its US Premiere at the Center for Jewish History, braving a piano that was not ideally prepared for the concert. But as in the previous Suite with violin, Wnukowski proved himself to be a formidable pianist fully capable of standing against the hurdles this sonata can present to any performer. The work was supposedly championed in the 20s by the eminent pianist Stefan Askenaze, who shared his Polish-Jewish roots with the composer. Set in three movements, this lengthy and densely written sonata oscillates between expressionistic “near tenderness” and angry, almost brutal rhetoric. The chordal writing dominates and there are plenty of octave runs and progressions of fourths. I was very impressed by the commanding performance by Wnukowski, who was able to get a resonant, rich sound even out of a poorly prepared instrument. One has to admire this pianist’s dedication to the music which obviously is dear to his heart. Recently Toccata Classics Records published a CD of Rathaus piano works performed by Mr. Wnukowski; that CD includes the Second Sonata, and based on what I heard during the chamber music recital – and later in the Piano Concerto – this CD will be worth exploring. It seems that Rathaus has finally found a capable, enthusiastic advocate who effortlessly can handle the demands that the composer places before his performer.

The chamber music concert concluded with the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (1928) and we were lucky to have had the indispensable clarinetist Charles Neidich and pianist Donald Pirone performing this attractive work. All I can say about Neidich masterful presentation is that if one day he’d decide to play nothing else but the scales up and down I would still consider it an event worth attending. Mr. Pirone’s presence was important inasmuch as he was the first contemporary performer of the Rathaus Piano Concerto, which he has also recorded.

The Piano Concerto was the centerpiece of the orchestral concert which concluded the Festival of Karol Rathaus music. Very appropriately, it took place in the college where the composer started his American activities and it was organized by the very Music Department he built.

For the program of Rathaus orchestral works, the Festival engaged not only the aforementioned Daniel Wnukowski as soloist in the Piano Concerto, but also the indefatigable Leon Botstein, who brought with him The Orchestra Now (TON) he established at Bard College as a symphony orchestra of hand-picked graduate students. That probably accounts for the generally excellent level of playing and the fact that they were able to learn and rehearse a difficult program of music that was largely performed for the very first time in the U.S. With the Piano Concerto (1939) and Symphony No. 2 (1923), we were able to determine what Rathaus music sounded like before he was forced to leave Nazi-dominated Europe, with fragments of Merchant of Venice (1936) we heard what his film-scores were about, finally with the Louisville Prelude (1953), we witnessed how much his compositional style has changed toward the end of his life.

Of all those scores, I was acquainted only with the Piano Concerto, a performance of which I heard in Europe during the summer of 2018. But hearing a real pianist who can conquer the demands of the difficult piano part, changed my initially half-hearted opinion of the work. It is interesting that when it was first introduced in the United States, it garnered enthusiastic reactions from Ernst Krenek (whose own style of writing was much more acerbic and geared toward twelve-tone) and later by Darius Milhaud and even one of the San Francisco critics who, although recognizing the gloomy quality of the score composed in London in 1939, declared he “should not be surprised if the Concerto someday takes its place in the standard repertory.” Well, it didn’t, and one must be grateful for the perseverance of pianists like Wnukowski, who deem it worthwhile to invest their energy, ability and talent and faith in that music.

Listening to the previously unknown score, one speculated once again about the influence of other composers. There were strong echoes of Bartók not only in the chordal writing but also in the melancholy, lyrical opening of the second movement, which is probably most impressive for its mysterious character. With its aggressive and forceful elements this score still has plenty of moments of mystery and romantic zeal. I was impressed not only with the authoritative presentation of the piano part but also with the level of orchestral playing, well-prepared and conducted with a sure hand by Maestro Botstein.

Upon first hearing, also the first U.S. hearing, of the Symphony No. 2 in four interconnected movements, whose premiere caused a strong criticism and voices of disapproval from the German critics, this reviewer was not totally sold on the work, though subsequent hearing of the recording helped a little to understand this heavy influence of the Expressionist style. Unrelenting gloom and an ominous, pervasive character make it perhaps easier to admire than to love.

How far our composer removed himself from the style of his younger years was demonstrated best in the 14 minutes long composition called Louisville Prelude, his last orchestral work which after its 1954 premiere was never again performed in the U.S. Here the writing is far less dense, the individual wind instruments have some prominent lines and one can enjoy the interplay of strings and winds. The music is only mildly dissonant and one can hear clear echoes of both American composers of the era (Copland, Sessions, Hanson) and later, in the polyphonic segment, also of Hindemith whose music Rathaus supposedly detested. The instrumental playing by TON was exemplary in the Louisville Prelude and all throughout the concert, and we should all be grateful that Maestro Botstein got involved in the Rathaus Festival. For years his pet projects were unjustly forgotten composers; Rathaus is definitely one of them.

In conclusion one may ask who is to blame for the neglect of a composer who in his young years was widely performed by the greatest musicians of the era and who seemed to have a bright future? When one reads about his history and the fact that he was one of many Jewish composers of that era who had to leave Germany just before the outbreak of the World War II, one might blame Hitler entirely. But that would be only a partial explanation, as many of these exiled composers and performers found success in the United States, where Rathaus lived the last 15 years of his life. The main reason for the neglect was that Rathaus seemed to be ambivalent about his own works. Supposedly happy and well-adjusted, he never discussed with his adoring students his life in Europe. One must remember that Rathaus was thrown out of Germany just as he was entering his most successful and important years as a composer. In terms of his development, he was cut off at the knees. In addition, his inability or lack of ambition to belong to one school or another; his wish to be modernist without necessarily being modern and his ambition to write music that was easily taken up, followed and understood by an intelligent listener, placed him in a position whereby he was too modern for conservatives and too conservative for experimentalists.

Many of his pre-war friends wanted to resurrect his career, yet it appeared to make little difference to him if a new orchestral work was premiered, and the best he managed was the St. Louis Symphony rather than the Berlin Philharmonic. One of his closest friends, conductor Jascha Horenstein, pleaded with him to get back in touch with Erich Kleiber, but Rathaus had withdrawn and come to terms with a new life, quietly living in Flushing and teaching at a college which at that time was not known for the same music department that later began to thrive under Rathaus’s direction. Historian Michael Hass, who was also very much involved in creating this Festival, posits that “another reason Rathaus appeared to have vanished as a composer may have been his desire not to draw attention to himself during the years of paranoid Communist witch hunts, starting in 1947 with the House of Un-American Activities and carrying on with the Senator Joseph McCarthy hearings up to the time of Rathaus’s death in 1954.”

New York audiences will have one more chance to hear Karol Rathaus’s piano compositions when Mr. Wnukowski returns in May 3, 2019, to Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall with a program that includes the Sonata No. 3. Wnukowski has already recorded a CD devoted entirely to the piano works of Rathaus. The New York performances at the Festival having further demonstrated that he is a formidable pianist, it seems that Karol Rathaus has found a brilliant new champion.

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Karol RATHAUS (1895-1954) Piano Music, Volume 1, MusicWeb International By Jonathan Woolf (April 2019)
Karol RATHAUS (1895-1954)
Piano Music – Volume 1
Fünf Klavierstücke, Op. 9 (1924) [23:44]
Piano Sonata No. 2, Op. 8 (1924; rev. 1927) [21:02]
Trois Mazurkas, Op. 24 (1928) [9:10]
Zwei Stücke aus dem Ballet ‘Der letzte Pierrot’ (1926, arr. 1927) [7:22]
Three Excerpts from the Film Music for Der Mörder Dimitri Karamasoff (‘The Murderer Dimitri Karamazov’;1931) [6:12]
Daniel Wnukowski (piano)
rec. 2018, Casino Baumgarten, Vienna
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0511 [67:33]

The first volume in Toccata’s series devoted to Karol Rathaus’s piano music – all apparently in premiere recordings – traces a tight compositional focus on 1924-31, a period when he moved between Vienna and Berlin. His Op.9 was written in his late twenties and is a set of character pieces. The main features are somewhat indeterminate harmonies and a piquant sense of colour, as well as march-like stridency. Weimar brusqueness as well as biting intensity and orchestral drive predominate. This combination clearly represented features that proved attractive to good performers, given that it was played by Stefan Askenase, Jacob Gimpel and Eduard Steuermann.

You’re never really quite sure what key you’re in with Rathaus. In the case of the Second Piano Sonata, with its taut three-movement structure, the ethos of brusqueness here sounds post-Lisztian in its command, though the central movement – a Presto – generates a kinetic nervous energy barely mitigated by a slow finale that refuses to indulge reflective melancholy. Rathaus, being Galician, had Polish as his first language and it’s not unreasonable that he should have turned to the Mazurka in 1928. That said, his Three Mazurkas were not intended as a set and if the intention was to see Chopin set in a contemporary context, the idea was notably successful.

His ballet Der letzte Pierrot was his first significant success. Scheduled to be performed by Erich Kleiber in Berlin it was actually premiered by Georg Szell in May 1927. He made two arrangements derived from the work, a Valse sentimentale and a Dance of the Workers. The latter is a quite frantic mechanized affair with a brief reprieve before resumption. By the thirties Rathuas was scenting the value of film music, a career he was to pursue first in Paris and then in London before emigrating to America in 1939. There are three excerpts here for solo piano from the 1931 film The Murderer Dimitri Karamazov. Descriptive and attractive though they are, their brevity hardly gives one a comprehensive enough hearing of the material. There are two attractive enough songs but the most exciting and vernacular is the Gypsy scene, which provides a fiery workout for the pianist.

It’s Polish-Canadian Daniel Wnukowski who shoulders the filmic, ballet, sonata and other burdens in the recital and he proves a most able exponent, suggesting Rathaus’ vitality and also his more crabbed, harmonically aloof self. If anyone is going to write a booklet note on this subject, it’s Michael Haas.

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Koffler Piano Concerto - Issue 42:1 Fanfare Magazine By Jim Svejda (Sept/Oct 2018)
All the performances—especially those of the orchestral works—communicate a fierce inner conviction and sense of discovery and are not only mandatory listening for anyone with a serious interest in early 20th-century music, but should also provide a catalyst for further exploration of this tragic, undeniably important figure.

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Classical Review - The Sunday Times By Geoff Brown (March 2018)
★★★★☆
As a collector of classical music recordings, which way do you swing? Is it the interpreters that really matter, or do you crave wide-ranging repertoire? Would you rather have 50 recordings of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, or 50 voyages of discovery into the unknown? Me, I lean more to the latter, and this week’s voyage leads us to Józef Koffler, a significant Polish-Jewish composer of the 1920s and 1930s, whose biographical trail runs cold after the family’s arrest by the Gestapo in 1944. One can guess what happened next.

None of the pieces on this important tribute album has been recorded before, and each bears witness to an imaginative artist caught up in turbulent times and changing political regimes. Consider the extraordinary Piano Concerto of 1932. The dashing pianist, Daniel Wnukowski, launches upon a jaunty atonal string of notes, only to swerve into virtuosic pomposities recalling an earlier age. Mystical impressionism meets Viennese modernism in the slow movement’s night music, while the last bears the stamp of a syncopated Polish dance, the krakowiak. Ukrainian Sketches, a wartime string quartet, offers folksy simplicity, but with an enigmatic twist. Symphony No 2 rattles along, tartly neoclassical. In all of these Koffler is the explosive master of the stylistic mix and match.

And the performances do him proud. Wnukowski aside, there’s the lustrous voice of American mezzo-soprano Fredrika Brillembourg, features in two song cycles, while the conductor Christoph Slowinski and the Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra clearly relish Koffler’s fast-changing tone colours and quick-footed wit. The 51st recording of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” can wait for another day.

More unusual repertoire arrives from the versatile cellist Matthew Sharp on the Avie label’s latest excavation of music by Hans Gál (★★★★☆), another Jewish composer buffeted by the mid-20th century, but one with inner reserves that allowed him to pour out lyrical beauties through his long life as though it were always 1901. Vividly captured in warm acoustics, Sharp’s cello is beautifully stylish and heartfelt in Gál’s two late solo suites and the first recording of the 1965 Concertino — sombre and wistful music, undeservedly forgotten.

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The end of one musical season and the start of the next - Fine Music By Mike Saunders (May 2019)
The quality of the music was uniformly exceptional, with perhaps the first half closer of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue being the most exceptional of all. This two-piano arrangement featured Ian Parker and Daniel Wnukowski and they literally brought the audience to their feet with stellar performances from both sides of the stage.

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Discovering Karol Rathaus - Basia con Fuoco By Basia Jaworski (April 2019)
As far as I know, this CD is the very first recording of Rathaus’s piano works. All these compositions were written between 1924 and 1931. Besides the Fünf Klavierstücke, the second piano sonata and three Mazurka’s there are also – arranged for the piano by the composer himself – two fragments from the ballet Der Letzte Pierrot and three pieces from the film music from Der Mörder Dimitri Karamasoff. These are fascinating works with very pronounced rhythms. Harmonious, but with some dissonances. Irrespectfully said: Bartók meets Szymanowski. No, Rathaus is neither Polish, nor Austrian, nor American. His music is unique, different, just… Rathaus.

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The Music of Karol Rauthus Rediscovered by Orchestra Now - Film Festival Traveler By Jack Angstreich (March 2019)
Soloist Daniel Wnukowski then took the stage for the composer’s spikier Piano Concerto, a more self-conscious expression of High Modernism, “last performed 34 years ago in 1984 by the Queens College Orchestral Society.” The moody first movement was by turns introspective and turbulent, while the second was even more inward, if no less emotional. The closing movement was perhaps the most tempestuous of all, which, for all its volatility, ended not without a note of triumph. As an encore, the pianist graciously performed an arrangement by Egon Petri of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze,” which was a highlight of the afternoon.

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En Hommage - Das Orchester By Stefan Drees (March 2018)
After an energetic beginning, an electrifying music unfolds, enabled precisely by the rhythmic finesse of pianist Daniel Wnukowski. Also in the finale, the interpretation convinces through sheer elegance and an underlying emphasis on irony. (translation from German)

Das vielleicht überzeugendste Argument hierfür ist das außerordentliche Klavierkonzert op. 13 (1932). Nach energetischem solistischen Beginn entfaltet sich eine elektrisierende Musik, deren rhythmische Finessen der Pianist Daniel Wnukowski mit präzisem Vortrag adelt. Auch im Finale, das mit klar konturierten Linienführungen aufwartet, überzeugt die Interpretation durch Eleganz und Hervorkehrung unterschwelliger Ironie. Herz des Stücks ist jedoch das atmosphärische, vom Solisten stellenweise fast rhapsodisch frei angestimmte Notturno, das von zarten Streichertexturen voller Leuchtkraft und flirrenden Tonhöhenwechsel durchzogen ist.

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Pianist brings 20th-century Jewish music to the world - Canadian Jewish News By Ruth Schweitzer (December 20, 2018)
He met Arlen, whose last name used to be Aptowitzer, in Vienna in 2013. Arlen was looking for a pianist and Wnukowski had been recommended. “We immediately hit it off. As soon as we went to a piano, I performed some of his works and did my best to capture the wistful nostalgia,” Wnukowski said.

Arlen is a composer of lieder, a style of German compositions that set poetry to music. “The song really captures the ability of the composer to express some of his deepest pain, sorrow, feelings of isolation, the incredibly anti-Semitic society that was growing even before Hitler came into power in 1933,” Wnukowski said.

He has recorded and edited Arlen’s complete piano works for the Austrian record label Gramola, which released two double CDs, Die Letzte Blaue and Wien, Du Allein.

At his Toronto concert, Wnukowski performed mazurkas by the Jewish composers Alexandre Tansman, Wladyslaw Szpilman, Karol Rathaus and Roman Ryterband for an ecstatic audience. Wnukowski said Chopin wrote 59 mazurkas, while Tansman comes in a close second with 36.

Along with Wnukowski’s activities as a performer – he plays at prestigious concert halls around the world – he heads an organization that will be bringing live classical music to remote communities in Canada.

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Major Chords - Ludwig Van By Robin Roger (March 2018)
I’ve been a fan of Wnukowski’s since I heard him perform at the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. I was particularly impressed by his commitment to reviving works of exiled Jewish composers of the 20th-century including Wladyslaw Szpilman, Alfred Schnittke, Josef Koffler and others.

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The Revival of a Great Work - The New Listener By Oliver Fraenzke (December 2017)
With virtuoso brilliance, Daniel Wnukowski captivates as a soloist in the piano concerto. This particularly comes through in the third movement, which sounds joyfully light but maintains a spirit of underlying solemnity…Das Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra unter Christoph Slowinski hebt die Kontrapunktik deutlich und verständlich hervor und lässt, wenngleich teils gehetzt wirkend, viel von der musikalischen Struktur durchscheinen, geht gefühlvoll auf die Thematik ein und all dies mit eine adäquaten Dichte von Klang und Ausdruck. Mit virtuoser Sicherheit und Glanz fesselt Daniel Wnukowski als Solist im Klavierkonzert, sichtlich Spaß hat er vor allem im dritten Satz, der freudig leicht und doch mit unterschwelligem Ernst erklingt. Wohl artikuliert, mit wuchtiger Kraft begleitet Slowinski die opernhaft schmetternde Frederika Brillembourg in den Liedern op. 1 und 27. Lyrisch durchzogen und von zarter Sehnsucht erfüllt betören die Ukrainischen Skizzen in der musikalisch ausgewogenen Darbietung des Polish String Quartet Berlin. Ausgezeichnet auch der vorbildlich informierende Booklettext.

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Bravos for guest conductor, pianist at TICO concert - San Diego Jewish World By Eileen Wingard (December 11, 2017)
After intermission, piano soloist, Daniel Wnukowski took center stage. He performed two works, the Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra by Cesar Franck and the Burlesque for Piano and Orchestra by Richard Strauss. Although the orchestral accompaniments for these two works were a bit ragged compared to the tightly delivered performances in the first half of the program, the soloist managed to carry the day.

Wnukowski is a first class pianist. He has technique and energy to burn, with octave runs moving so rapidly, his hands were a blur to watch. His lyrical passages sang, and his digital dexterity impressed in both works.

The seldom-heard Strauss Burlesque, which he composed at the age of 21, had passages reminiscent of his later Rosenkavalier Waltzes.

The slender, youthful-looking Wnukowski, a native of Canada, now living in Austria, has become deeply committed to the performance of Jewish composers of the Holocaust.

As encores, he played two short works by composers who managed to escape the Nazi horror. The first was by the Austrian-Jewish emigre to Hollywood, Erich Korngold. It was one of a group of pieces Korngold called, “Little Waltzes,” each of which he named for one of his lady friends. This one was “Gretl.” It proved to be a charming confection.

The second encore was “Oberek,” a dance in ¾ time with the accent on the third beat. Wnukowski zipped through it with rapid flare. This virtuoso gem was by a Polish-Jewish composer, Roman Ritterband, who escaped on the last train to Switzerland in 1942.

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KOFFLER - Klassisk Musikk By Martin Anderson (June 2018)
The performances are without any exceptions exquisite. […] As the first CD [of the EDA label] dedicated to Koffler’s music, this release is worth acquiring. (Translation from Norwegian)

Fremførelsene er uten unntak utsøkte: «Iuventus» i Det polske Iuventus Symfoniorkester viser ingen tegn til manglende teknisk sikkerhet: dette ensemblet utgjøres av de beste nyutdannede fra Polens musikkonservatorium. Maciej Gołąbs artikkel i CD-heftet fortjener også applaus – og vil noen lese mer om Koffler, har Golab skrevet en artikkel som tar for seg alt Koffler skrev, og som du finner her.

Som den første CDen viet Kofflers musikk, er denne utgivelsen verd å løftes frem for dette verket alene. Og den er en del av en lykkelig trend.

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Financial Times Review - By Richard Fairbarn (December 5, 2014)
Pianist Daniel Wnukowski plays a selection of pieces that provide an idea of what was lost in prewar Vienna. The “last blue” was the late-night tram in prewar Vienna. It is a memory steeped in sadness for Walter Arlen, who lost family, livelihood, and a likely future as a composer as a teenage exile from the Nazis. Now 94, he is hearing much of his music for the first time and this two-disc selection of small-scale pieces provides an idea of what was lost. Here are intimate piano solos, nostalgic songs and bittersweet violin music. Daniel Wnukowski is the devoted pianist, well supported by violinist Daniel Hope, and singers Rebecca Nelsen and Christian Immler.

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Erinnerungen an damals… Pizzicato By Remy Franck (November 2014)
The varied program of solo pieces for piano, songs and chamber music is performed with commitment and sensitive inspiration.

Neben Werken für Klavier solo (Monotypes, Mementos) finden sich auf dieser Doppel-CD des polnisch-kanadischen Pianisten Daniel Wnukowski auch Werke für Klavier und Violine und weitere Lieder. Für Erstaunen sorgt der Titel des dreiteiligen Werk ‘Arbeit macht frei’ für Klavier und Metronom, das 1995 nach einem Besuch des ehemaligen Vernichtungslagers Auschwitz entstand.

Dies ist also ein abwechslungsreiches Programm mit durchaus gefälliger Musik, das sehr sensibel und mit spürbarer Liebe zu der Musik Arlens auf hohem Niveau dargeboten wird.

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A Special Piano Recital in Toronto - Maestro.net.pl By Kazik Jedrzejczak (December 2018)
Wnukowski proved that he is endowed with extraordinary musicality and technical skill, while always maintaining the spirit and mood of the composition on hand. The Mazurkas were performed with a youthful energy and dynamism. The pianist exhibited an authentic rhythmic portrayal of this dance form. At the end of the concert, an enthusiastic audience gave him a standing ovation.

Wnukowski udowodnił, że obdarzony jest niezwykłą muzykalnością i biegłością techniczną, zachowując przy tym ducha i nastrój kompozycji. Wykonanie utwory cechowała młodzieńcza energia i dynamika. Pianista celnie wydobył rytmikę tego tańca. Na zakończenie tego koncertu entuzjastyczna publiczność zgotowała artyście gorącą owację na stojąco.

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The Career Challenge: Problems Facing Today's Pianists - Clavier Companion By Peter Jutras (May/June 2012)
The talented and aspiring young Canadian pianist of Polish origin, Daniel Wnukowski (pictured on page 24), noted, “If someone had told me at an early age what the music business entails, I would have moved to Tibet and become a monk. But it’s too late now! Today, many extremely talented pianists are rejected at the doors of agents and artistic directors. Those that don’t become their own managers, at least in the beginning of their careers, are completely left out in the cold.”Have higher technical standards made it more difficult to get noticed?

Yes. Here’s what Daniel Wnukowski had to say on that subject: “Today, young musicians are faced with the daunting task of performing the piano with pristine, technical perfection, often at the cost of compromising musicality. I was astonished to read some of the reviews that many of my colleagues had received after their recitals in which critics based their reviews on the amount of wrong notes they had heard! However, I feel that we have so much creative energy and power among young pianists today who are ready to overcome such mediocrity and musical torpor. Today, more than ever, musicians have at their disposition incredible tools that can effectively convey their message to an eager audience such as the use of online blogging or the creation of ravishing, new program ideas.”

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Pianist Approves Predecessor's Choice - Plays All Five Beethoven Concerti - San Diego Jewish World By E. Wingard (February 7, 2012)
On Tuesday evening, the sublime music box theme in the Emperor Concerto’s first movement was delicately accompanied to allow the soloist to evoke its magic. The pianist performed with power and security. His rippling runs contrasted with tender passages and massive chords to convey Beethoven’s creative spirit.

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The Art of Daniel Wnukowski - West East Toronto Newspaper By H. Klukach (February 5, 2011)
I was immediately drawn into the magnificence of this performers mastery of his instrument. Technically he was flawless, but it was the love and passion in his playing that captivated. Moving into Szymanowski’s Masks,Op.34, Wnukowski again showed his technical mastery and versatility of music that was bolder and less lyrical.

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Wnukowski Painted an Evocative Sound Fresco - Teatroteatro.it - Ancona, Italy By G.P. Grattarola (November 8, 2010)
Having already launched several major Chopin festivals around the world, Wnukowski arrived in the Doric capital to take his large audience on a fascinating journey into the repertoire of the great Polish composer.[…] His piano playing manages to bring to light the infinite riches hidden in the score while leaving the aesthetic content unchanged, maintaining the spirit and mood of the compositions he is performing.
As the harmonic textures evolved, priceless moments of intense lyricism dazzled the audience with a naturalness for breathing, clean sound, and utter magic. Timeless moments, or rather, moments where time seemed to stop in stunned contemplation were an integral part of this unforgettable romantic evening. ” (Original Language: Italian)” Anche quest’anno la stagione concertistica allestita dagli Amici della Musica di Ancona G. Michelli ha un cartellone di rilievo e vanta ospitalità di lusso. E ne ha fornito un primo assaggio fin dalle battute iniziali, portando sul palco del Teatro delle Muse un giovane ma autorevole esponente del pianismo internazionale. Daniel Wnukowski, classe 1981, ha già al suo attivo un pregevole curriculum di interpretazioni eseguite nelle più prestigiose sale europee e americane.

Dopo aver inaugurato diversi importanti festival Chopin in tutto il mondo, giunge nel capoluogo dorico per condurre il numeroso pubblico presente in un suggestivo viaggio nel repertorio del grande musicista polacco. E la platea non può fare a meno d’inebriarsi, dinanzi all’intenso spessore evocativo e alla mirabile pulizia del suono. Il suo è un pianismo che, pur lasciando immutati i contenuti estetici, riesce a portare in luce le infinite ricchezze celate nelle partiture, lo spirito e gli umori delle composizioni eseguite.

Impeccabilmente assecondato dall’accompagnamento dell’Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana – interprete tra l’altro del gradevole poemetto musicale Pelléas et Mélisande di Gabriel Fauré – Daniel Wnukowski si è immerso dapprima nel Concerto n.1 in Mi minore Op. 11, quindi ne l’Andante Spianato e Grande Polacca brillante in Mi bemolle maggiore Op. 22 entrambe di Chopin. Il suo avvolgente estro creativo ha disegnando un affresco di altissimo valore musicale ed emotivo, dove le tonalità vengono disposte con cura in tutta la loro malinconica, tragica potenza.

A mano a mano che la tessitura armonica si espandeva, impagabili momenti di intenso lirismo si sono aperti continuamente come specchi d’acqua limpida, abbacinando il pubblico per la naturalezza del respiro, la pulizia del suono, la sonorità sospesa e magica. Momenti senza tempo, o meglio momenti in cui il tempo è parso arrestarsi nella contemplazione stupefatta di un’indimenticabile serata romantica. Applausi convinti e prolungati anche per Romolo Gessi, che ha sfoggiato una bacchetta disinvolta negli empiti più accesi e morbida nelle atmosfere di più riposata bellezza.

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With Heart in Hand - Mundoclasico By B. Maruxa (August 13, 2010)
Wnukowski did a great piano accompaniment…he did some precious things like bringing out the ‘love and life’ of women in the fifth lied [of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben Song Cycle], by bringing out the wedding march passage and in the final song, ‘Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan’, where he helped Kurzak much to leave us with a desolate soul. ” (Original Language: Spanish)”Wnukowski hizo un gran acompañamiento…Hizo algunas cosas preciosas, como en Amor y vida de mujer, en el quinto lied, el paso de la escena con las amigas a la marcha nupcial, y sobre todo el lied final, ‘Ahora me has causado el primer dolor’, donde contribuyó tanto como Kurzak a dejarnos con el alma desolada.

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Extraordinary Chopin - Spoleto - Cultura e Spettacoli By F. Calvani (June 21, 2010)
Daniel Wnukowski was the undisputed star of the evening…a Chopin live and refined, elegant with impeccable virtuosity, blending in a faithful interpretation lavishly praised by its narrator. (Original Language: Italian)

Un San Simone gremito assiste, attonito, ad una memorabile esecuzione del repertorio chopeniano. Daniel Wnukowski è il protagonista indiscusso di questa serata temporalmente instabile ma “passivamente” ricettiva di un talentuoso estro esecutivo, vivacemente sintetizzato da questo
straordinario pianista canadese. Uno Chopin vivo e raffinato, virtuosisticamente elegante ed ineccepibile, si amalgama in una fedele aneddotistica chopeniana riccamente declamata da una voce recitante. Si ha ragione di credere che questo omaggio a l’artista polacco semplifichi e valorizzi quella voluminosa letteratura ad oggi baricentro culturale di un mondo chopeniano ancora in cerca di verità definite. Si ripete nuovamente l’abile direzione artistica di un Festival che si attendeva con ansia.

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In Tokyo, A Monument to Frederic Chopin - Polish Radio Information Agency (May 22, 2010)

The sculpture of Chopin was officially unveiled by the university’s director Ryohei Miyata, as well as by Miroslaw Zasada from the Polish Embassy.

The monument was sculpted by the professor of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Adam Roman and was funded by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The unveiling ceremony was accompanied by a piano recital performed by a Canadian-born pianist of Polish origin, Daniel Wnukowski. He performed among other things, a cycle of piano miniatures “Masks” by Karol Szymanowski, and Frederic Chopin’s four ballades.

The pianist admitted that he grew up in a home which continuously played traditional Polish songs and dances including the mazurka, kujawiak and oberek which greatly helped him in understanding the music of Chopin. The concert was very enthusiastically received by a packed concert hall.

Source: Polskie Radio – Wiadomości Świata

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