Mieczysław Karłowicz ranks among the most important Polish
composers and his music is at last beginning to be covered by
the record companies. Chandos have recorded all three of the symphonic
poems covered on this first Naxos CD: Stanislaw and Anna Oświecimowie
and Lithuanian Rhapsody (with Eternal Songs)
9986 (2001) and Episode at a Masquerade
(with Returning Waves and A Sorrowful Tale) on CHAN
10298 (2005). A third 2003 Chandos release on CHAN
10171 has Karłowicz’s Bianca da Molina, Serenade
for Strings and his ‘Rebirth’ Symphony.
and Anna Oświecimowie, written
in 1906, was Karłowicz’s, fourth and most successful symphonic
poem, praised by critics and public. To modern ears it sounds
curiously reminiscent of a Korngold or Steiner film score. In
fact it is very cinematic with noble, portentous material, sweeping
romantic lyricism and dark dramatic, even seething, sinister
episodes. It employs a large orchestra and Antoni Wit and the
Warsaw Philharmonic clearly relish its overt romanticism. They
are every bit as forceful and romantic as Tortelier and the
BBC Philharmonic on the Chandos CD. Stanislaw and Anna Oświecimowie
was inspired by a painting by Stanislaw Bergmann depicting a
scene from a 17th century tragic legend concerning
the incestuous love between the two siblings of the music’s
title – Stanislaw eventually going to Rome to seek the Pope’s
blessing on their union, only to find his sister dead on his
Lithuanian Rhapsody begins equally gloomily. Karłowicz
said of it: “I tried to pour into it all the sadness and eternal
chains of this people whose songs had filled my childhood”.
Melancholic nostalgia and a sense of regret permeate the work.
The music climbs slowly out of the darkness, only briefly emerging
from the shadows, and working towards an impassioned climax.
Folk/rustic music is evident. Influences are difficult to define
- Grieg seems the most obvious with perhaps something of Dvořàk
and Sibelius. Wit delivers a most affecting reading.
at a Masquerade was Karłowicz’s
final symphonic poem. He had worked on it from October 1908
until his death the following February – he died it seems, in
an avalanche while skiing in the Tatra mountains – leaving an
autograph that apparently extended for 473 bars. The work was
completed by Fitelberg and … Masquerade was first performed
in Warsaw in February 1914. It begins brilliantly
with, if I can clumsily put it this way, a sonic fountain of
joyful playfulness, before poignant violins momentarily slow
the hedonistic pace. Together with material that might suggest
gales and snowy blizzards, and passages of intense yearning,
all this and more, and you have the elements of this inflated
and kaleidoscopic but immensely enjoyable Late-Romantic symphonic
poem. I prefer by a small margin this reading to Gianandrea
Noseda’s Chandos recording.
lovers of inflated Late-Romanticism, this is treasure trove.
Review by Rob Maynard