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Romuald TWARDOWSKI (b. 1930)
Works for String Orchestra

Little Symphony for piano, strings and percussion (1959) [18:09]
Triptych of the Virgin Mary (1973) [9:59]
Concerto Breve (1998) [9:08]
Old Polish Concerto - Staropolski (1988) [10:14]
Serenade (2003) [10:40]
Oberek (1955) [2:27]
Edward Wolanin (piano)
Zenon Brzewski Warsaw String Orchestra/Andrzej Gebski (violin)
rec. ZPSM Concert Hall No. 1, 30 March 2003 (Concerto Breve; Staropolski), 28 March 2004 (Triptych), 21 November (Serenade; Oberek), 16 January 2004 (Little Symphony). DDD
ACTE PRÉALABLE AP 0120 [61:15]

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Twardowski is hardly a household name in the Western world, but the pieces here and also in recently-reviewed Acte Préalable APO0110  (see review) will likely give listeners cause to take notice.  This disc, as with the one I reviewed earlier, features a youth orchestra. Both orchestras show themselves equal to the challenge of these pieces.
The early Little Symphony, written as a student piece, is more a piano concerto, energetic and angular, with a dark theme brought up by the strings while the timpani toll behind them.  Heavily contrapuntal, this piece sounds rather like a less aggressively-dissonant Shchedrin.  Prokofiev also comes to mind as this first movement progresses, opening up to a scale that belies the work’s given name.  The Scherzo that follows certainly brings up the sarcastic side of Prokofiev, in a danse macabre, short and striking.  The following Largo is brooding and meditative for unaccompanied piano, a feature that also figures in Twardowski’s Small Concerto.  This dark moment leads without a break into the final Passacaglia. Its repeated figure carries an eerie reminiscence of the passacaglia of Shostakovich’s first violin concerto, though without such an epic sense of grief.  At any rate, the work is arresting and something that fans of mid-century modern music will enjoy.  This should certainly see more time on the stages in live performance than it has seen since its composition.
The following work, Triptych of the Virgin Mary is scored for strings only.  The opening section, entitled “The Manger in Bethlehem” juxtaposes sforzando chords in the strings with solo or chamber group interludes redolent of early music.  The three main sections are separated by two innocent and enjoyable short dances, both of less than two minutes.  The central tableau “The Entombment” is a reverent and resonant piece, again employing the tone of Renaissance-era music.  “The Resurrection” brings back the forceful chords first heard in the opening section.  An enjoyable piece, especially for the “Entombment” movement, which certainly could have been longer without this reviewer minding. 
Of the remaining pieces, the Old Polish Concerto for string orchestra is also available in a different performance on APO 0110.  This piece fits with the Triptych in its purposeful look backwards in terms of treatment of thematic material and form.  The opening movement calls Prokofiev’s first symphony — also composed with a retro glance — to mind. You will also hear elements of Grieg’s Holberg Suite.  The sound of the Zenon Brzewski Warsaw String Orchestra on the other APO 0120 release is less compressed and more immediate, and is my pick over the Chopin Youth Orchestra’s performance.  It certainly is nice, however, to have more than one performance available to the public. 
As a lovely curtain-closer, we have the engaging triple-meter Oberek, a Polish folk dance.  The strings here are lush and the playing is wonderfully done. 
Overall, many fans of Prokofiev and Alexander Tcherepnin will find these works quite interesting.  Acte Préalable does well in this release in providing a cross-section of Twardowski’s works, from the reminiscent to the more challenging.  Perhaps these works will soon see a wider appreciation due to this release.  I look forward to hearing future performances.
David Blomenberg



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