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Mieczyslav KARŁOWICZ (1876-1909)
Symphonic Poems
CD 1:
Recurring Waves Op. 9 (1904) [25:15]
Eternal Songs Op. 10 (1906) [25:42]
A Sad Tale Op. 13 (1908) [10:57]
CD 2:
Lithuanian Rhapsody Op.11 (1906) [20:17]
Stanislaw and Anna Oświecim Op. 12 (1907) [22:33]
An Episode during a Masquerade Op. 14 (1909) [25:37]
Silesian Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Jerzy Salwarowski
rec. 8 January 1981, 11-13 June 1983, Concert Hall of the Polish National Symphony Orchestra in Katowice
Text: Leszek Polony
DUX 0132/0133 [61:57 + 68:29] 
Experience Classicsonline


In all Karłowicz has only fourteen opus numbers to his credit. The summit of these is the last six numbers, all of them symphonic poems. The two discs here comprise a re-release, actually the second re-release, of the first complete recording of the six, originally on LP. They thus have historical importance, especially as Salwaroski has been the strongest advocate at home and abroad for this composer. See the Editor’s review of the previous re-release of this set. Even more importantly, these recordings comprise finely thought-out and executed performances, although obviously, sonic quality has come a long way since the LP days.
 

Karłowicz started out under the influence of the Russians: Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin. This is evident in Recurring Waves. But he already shows great emotional depth, as well as developmental ability and a unique sense of orchestration that frequently relies upon the woodwind. As the work progresses, the influence of Strauss becomes more prominent. Eternal Songs actually consists of three pieces which make a conjoined whole. The first, Everlasting Longing, shows quite an advance over Recurring Waves, being more individual in both sound and harmony, the latter a feature that will become progressively more important with each symphonic poem. Everlasting Longing also shows a greater emotional maturity in its Mahlerian protest against Fate. The Song of Love and Death continues this mood but also has an almost operatic quality to its main theme and development. As always, the use of the woodwinds is most impressive. The Song of Eternal Being deals with an element that would come up again in the composer’s works - the sense of eternity that defies all earthly problems. Karłowicz himself found this most purely in his mountain-climbing expeditions, although it was on the last of these that he was killed in an avalanche. The music here lives up to the concept and one truly feels while listening to it that one is climbing towards eternity. 

The words Lithuanian Rhapsody would seem to imply yet another pot-pourri of folk tunes from some part of the world or other. This work is indeed based on several folk melodies from Lithuania and also White Russia - as it was then known. But the themes in this piece are much more integrated than is usual in such creations and even come to have a programmatic content similar to that of The Song of Eternal Being. The composer’s voice is totally free of the influence of other composers now and the last part of the work is one of his most impressive creations. With Stanisław and Anna Oświecim the composer returns to the formal symphonic poem in a work that tells of the tragic love of a brother and sister. The themes in this work are perhaps the most beautiful in any of the six symphonic poems and the composer’s facility at orchestration rivals that of Korngold or Schreker. The passionate first half again demonstrates his ability to manipulate thematic material, while the sinister second half with its funeral march grows progressively more grim, leading to a devastating coda. 

Though half the length of the other works, A Sad Tale packs at least as much emotional impact as any of the others. It portrays the mindset of a suicide, with two themes, one representing life and the other death - the latter wins. It is an expressionistic rather than romantic work and eschews formal development for continuous organic variation of its two themes. In spite of this it is totally cohesive and brilliantly organized. An Episode during a Masquerade was left incomplete at the composer’s death in 1909. It was completed and orchestrated by his friend and proponent Grzegorz Fitelberg. Again, two themes are organically developed in a three-part structure, the first brilliantly describing the ball, then a sad mid-section and an even more brilliant reprise of the ball material. The emotional depth of the middle section and the harmonic resourcefulness of the entire piece inevitably lead one to the question of where could Karłowicz have gone creatively if he had continued to live. 

Salwarowski has excellent control of his orchestra and is especially notable both for his phrasing and maintenance of tension throughout the duration of a piece, important given the emotional content of these works. He also has a genuine feel for the “Karłowicz sound” and demonstrates a lot of conviction in his overall conceptions of the works. The orchestra can sometimes be a little scrappy, but they do their best to match their conductor’s enthusiasm and overall acquit themselves quite well. There is also the fact, to quote the Editor, that “Salwarowski has become to Karłowicz what Beecham became to Delius, Boult to Vaughan Williams, Handley to Bax”. Sonically, LPs from the early 1980s cannot compare with more recent recordings although these recordings have been digitally fixed as much as possible. This brings up the question of competition from other recordings, specifically the two discs of these works by Antoni Wit (with different orchestras) on Naxos (8.570452 and 8.570295) and the three discs (with two different conductors) on Chandos (9986, 10171, 10298) of the complete Karłowicz orchestral music. Thus we have excellent unity of conception versus sound quality and economy versus sound quality and completeness of output respectively. Each set obviously brings with it strong attributes. My personal recommendation, though perhaps a costly one, would be to buy these Salwarowski recordings and augment them with the second volume of the Chandos set, which contains the three additional Karłowicz orchestral works.

William Kreindler


 


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