> Mieczyslaw KARLOWICZ - Three Symphonic Poems [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Mieczyslaw KARLOWICZ (1876-1909)
Three Symphonic Poems
Eternal Songs (1906) [26.57]
Stanislaw and Anna Oswieczim (1907) [22.18]
Lithuanian Rhapsody (1906) [17.13]
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/Yan Pascal Tortelier
rec. 13-14 Dec 2001, Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester
CHANDOS CHAN 9986 [66.41]


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Karłowicz was born in the Polish province of Vilna. His father, Jan was a historian, ethnologist and musician. At Warsaw he studied with Noskowski and in Berlin with Urban. From 1906 to 1907 he was one of Nikisch's conducting pupils. His interests included skiing, mountaineering and photography. He died in a skiing accident in the Polish highlands (the same high pastures that inspired Szymanowski in his masterful ballet music Harnasie).

For instant reference purposes Karłowicz can best be thought of as a contemplative Polish Tchaikovsky. He is no barnstormer - at least not in these three works which gaze into eternity and the far horizons rather than revelling in crashingly passionate storms. Karłowicz is no mere Tchaikovsky facsimile: his music is mixed with brooding elements from Rachmaninov and early Miaskovsky. Crude though this approximation may be it gives you some insight into what you will hear if you buy this superbly interpreted, recorded and annotated disc.

The titles of the three movements of his Eternal Songs (which Rozhdestvensky gave in concert with the Chicago Symphony about twenty years ago - broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 22 November 1981) are: Song of Everlasting Yearning; Song of Love and Death; Song of Eternal Being. These titles referring to the great episodes in life can also be found in the early works of Bax and Delius. The first song does not yearn in despair nor is it belligerent with loss. This is the exhausted yearning of old age for youth rather like a self-composed reflective Don Juan. The Song of Life and Death trembles with expectation carrying over the placid and philosophical mind from the first Song. It fades into sunset radiance. After two movement of exaltation and contemplation we come to the regal Song of Eternal Being which brings reminders of Zarathustra and Mahler.

The Eternal Songs triptych was premiered under Fitelberg with Berlin Philharmonic on 21 March 1907. It was Grzegorz Fitelberg who completed Episode during a Masquerade from Karłowicz's sketches.

The story of forbidden love between brother and sister inspired the composer to one his most intense expressions. The Oswieczim poem was brought about by seeing a portrait by Stanisław Bergmann (1862-1930) which shows Stanisław grieving over the funeral bier of his sister. While there are Elgarian shudders of Froissart and griping early Bax in this music Tortelier again brings out the radiance and glow. In this he is aided by one of the UK's most splendidly luxuriant orchestras. The lush harp-decorated side can be sampled in the sinking back into repletion of 10.20. A spiritual sister to this work is Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet although the Karłowicz is overhung with darker cloud and bleaker premonitions.

The Lithuanian Rhapsody has a strong Slav accent and is unusual in Karłowicz’s output in being based on folk song. In it the composer aimed to encapsulate the total grief, sadness and eternal servitude of native Lithuanians. It is the most Russian nationalist of his works with linkages with Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov.

You should be able to track down more Karłowicz if this disc catches your interest. There are some songs on Thorofon and Pavane CDs. The simply glorious violin concerto (played by Konstanty Kulka) is on a deleted Olympia coupled with the Renaissance Symphony. Olympia did Karłowicz proud in the 1980s with Stanislaw Wislocki and the Warsaw PO. Polskie Nagrania recorded them in Eternal Songs, Stanisław and Anna and Masquerade Episode in Warsaw in 1965. Olympia issued these on OCD 307 back in 1988.

There is, of course, room for volumes 2 and 3. Chandos always do such a splendid job and to have the Recurring Waves, Episode and Sorrowful Tale in this form would be welcome indeed. Also perhaps the next virtuoso who wants to display the Tchaikovsky or Sibelius violin concertos would consider coupling the Karłowicz. Neither soloist nor listener would be disappointed.

Tortelier reminds me of another Chandos artist, Valery Polyansky. Both are meticulous on balance, sensitivity, poetry and finely calculated sound. Neither strike me as having the fiery insolence of a Mravinsky or a Rozhdestvensky. This serves the character of these pieces well. It would be interesting to know what Vassily Sinaisky or Rozhdestvensky would make of the other three symphonic poems.

Three poetic late-romantic tone poems beautifully shaped by Tortelier and superbly played by the BBC Phil - an orchestra that has outshone its London, Cardiff and Glasgow brethren since its move to Studio 7 during the 1980s.

Rob Barnett

FURTHER LISTENING

Miecslaw KARLOWICZ: complete symphonic poems: Returning Waves (1904) [25.15]; Eternal Songs (1907) [25.44]; A Sorrowful Tale - Preludes to Eternity (1908) [10.57]; Lithuanian Rhapsody (1906) [20.17]; Stanislaw and Anna Oswieczin (1912) [22.33]; Episode during a Masquerade (1908-9) [25.37]. Silesian State PO/Jerzi Salwarowski rec Katowice, 8 Dec 1981, 11-13 June 1983. DUX 0132-0133 [61.57+68.29] Reviewed elsewhere on this site. Originally on Wifon then briefly licensed to Harmonia Mundi. Dux set from Dux Recording Producers, Morskie Oko 2, 02-511 Warsaw, POLAND. Email: dux@pol.pl

See also review by John Quinn


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