PAUL KOCHANSKI (1887 - 1934)
Like many others of his generation, Kochański studied violin first with his father. At seven he went to the school of the Odessa Imperial Music Society to learn with Emil Młynarski, a former pupil of Leopold Auer. When Młynarski founded the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra in 1901 he appointed Kochański as concertmaster and became a substitute father to him, determined to groom him as a world-class soloist. Polish sponsorship enabled him to undertake further studies with César Thomson at the Brussels Conservatoire in 1903, graduating after only four months with the premier prix avec la plus grande distinction. Kochański was evidently aware of the different characteristics of the two schools, attributing his right-hand ‘interpretative’ style to his Russian training and that of his ‘technical’ left hand to the Belgian Thomson.
At the start of his career as a touring soloist Kochański met Arthur Rubinstein; the two immediately struck up an enduring friendship and a musical partnership that produced numerous memorable performances of Romantic chamber repertoire throughout Europe. Later the pair became associated with Szymanowski in the Young Poland movement, promoting new music in Warsaw; in 1916 Szymanowski wrote his Violin Concerto No. 1 for Kochański, who also flexed his muscles as a composer by contributing the cadenza. He later produced violin transcriptions of a number of Szymanowski’s works, as well as of others such as Schubert, Falla, Ravel and Bizet.
In 1914 Kochański performed programmes of purely contemporary works in Rubinstein’s Bechstein Hall concerts and after meeting Stravinsky became the dedicatee of several of his violin works. Other composers who wrote for Kochański included Prokofiev, Glazunov and, interestingly, Englishman Arnold Bax who, following a romantic attachment to a Ukrainian girl, had visited St Petersburg and begun to incorporate a Russian influence into his compositions.
Kochański succeeded Auer at the St Petersburg Conservatory, teaching there from 1916 to 1918. He subsequently taught at Kiev (1919–1920), working with Prokofiev on his Violin Concerto No. 1 during this time. Kochański was to have given the première of this work in 1917, but the composer’s vacillations and other preoccupations delayed the occasion until 1923, by which time he and Kochański had lost touch.
In 1920 Kochański began a brief sojourn in London, once more giving recitals with Rubinstein and Szymanowski. This was followed by what became a permanent move to America, where he chose Brahms’s Violin Concerto for his Carnegie Hall début. This single performance prompted his immediate popularity amongst American audiences and his success there was secured, leading to further opportunities to champion new music as well as to head the violin faculty at the Juilliard School in the final years before his death. Although he was already ill with cancer Kochański worked again with Szymanowski in 1933, helping him complete his Violin Concerto No. 2 and giving its first performance.
Considering his stature and generation, Kochański recorded relatively little. The only electric recording is a performance from 1932 of Brahms’s Violin Sonata No. 3, Op. 108 with Rubinstein. This reveals him as a powerful player in the prime from which he was so sadly cut down. His tone is vibrant and full with a relatively fast and tight vibrato. Interestingly, Kochański practises a combination of vibrato and descending portamento in the slow movement that is not unlike examples glimpsed in Enescu’s playing or that of the young Yehudi Menuhin. Elsewhere this sonata is full of excitement, mainly due to the use of expressive tempo rubato which makes the last movement particularly thrilling.
In the acoustic era of the early 1920s Kochański recorded a number of encores, some with his brother at the piano. Some of these, such as an arrangement by English violinist Edgar Haddock of Pierné’s Serenade, Op. 7, are not especially interesting or distinguished; in general those items accompanied by Tresselt are rather better than those involving Kochański’s brother. Readers with a liking for violin gymnastics will admire Kochański’s recording of Le Carnaval russe by Wieniawski for its certain and clear left hand pizzicati and dazzling harmonics; historians of violin playing will notice significant differences between his interpretation of the Brahms–Joachim Hungarian Dance No. 1 and that of its transcriber, whilst the similarities (albeit with far more discreet portamenti and a more stable tempo) between his performance of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir d’un lieu cher, Op. 42 No. 3, and that of his predecessor at St Petersburg, Leopold Auer, are of equal fascination.
Kochański was evidently a popular man and much admired by his contemporaries. Carl Flesch praised him as ‘an inimitable interpreter […] excellent arranger […] also a charming conversationalist’. Home-made film footage shows him as an entertaining and generous host, an affectionately humorous imitation of cellist Pablo Casals being one of his party-pieces! The line-up of forty-one musically eminent pallbearers at his funeral, including Toscanini, Heifetz, Kreisler and Zimbalist, is testament to the respect he earned as a musician.
Overall, Kochański was clearly a great player, who retained the charisma and excitement of nineteenth-century playing but with a more modern tonal gloss. As such he deserves to be much better appreciated.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Milsom (A–Z of String Players, Naxos 8.558081-84)