Born in Szamotuły, into a family with Polish-German roots, the composer, pianist (a highly respected interpreter of Chopin’s music) and teacher Xaver Scharwenka gained great popularity as the composer of Polish Dance in E-flat Minor, which was published in a record number of editions over a period of several decades. And yet, the composer – a somewhat obscure figure today – is also the author of a great number of more serious works, which recently have regained – albeit rather slowly – recognition among both audiences and performers alike. The mysterious title of his only opera from 1894, Mataswintha (betraying his fascination with Wagner’s style) alludes to the figure and dramatic life story of a 6th-century Ostrogothic aristocrat, the heroine of Felix Dahn’s once popular novel A Struggle for Rome.
Nikolay Tcherepnin was a student of Rimsky-Korsakov and, like many other of the latter’s proteges, he inherited from his master an exceptionally sensitive ear for the sumptuousness of orchestral timbre. Not only was he a frequent conductor of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, but he also composed for the ensemble with great success (including the piece debuted by dancers in Paris in 1909 – Le Pavillon d’Armide). The subtle Narcisse et Echo was slightly overshadowed in the 1911 season by the sensational premiere of Stravinsky’s Petrushka, chronologically almost its contemporary; however, it has been remembered thanks to Nijinsky’s performance and the wonderful music, which can often be heard in its concert version.
Since its premiere, Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, a work infused with romantic rapture and impressive virtuosity, has become firmly enshrined in the strict canon of the cello repertoire. And yet it might never have been written! For a long time, the composer had reservations about the cello, regarding it mainly as an orchestral instrument. He finally gave in to years of persuasion from the virtuoso Hanuš Wihan and completed his still much-loved work in 1895 (in the end, the public premiere in London was performed not by Wihan but rather by Leo Stern).