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CD: Orchestral Concerts CDs

Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Violin Concerto Op.15 (1939 rev 1958) [29:42]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No.4 in F minor Op.36 (1877) [38:20]
Stanisław MONIUSZKO (1819-1872)
Straszny dwór (The Haunted Manor) - Act IV; Mazur (1865) [5:25]
Wanda Wilkomirska (violin)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Witold Rowicki
rec. live, Royal Festival Hall, London, 7 April 1967

Experience Classicsonline

This concert was given at the Royal Festival Hall in London in April 1967, by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under a fairly frequent visitor to the city, Witold Rowicki. It’s notable for two things. The first is a rare outing for the Britten Violin Concerto and the second is a blistering performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony - in particular the first movement which generates visceral reserves of tension that do not lessen throughout the entire performance.
Britten’s Concerto is played by Wanda Wilkomirska (b.1929) who I’m sure has a secure place in many collectors’ hearts. Her affinity with British music is not quite exiguous. She recorded all three numbered Delius sonatas, which was quite a feat for the time. But she is mainly known on disc for her recordings for Muza and Connoisseur; I think particularly of her discs of the Karłowicz, Szymanowski and Khachaturian Concertos; of her Shostakovich No.2, her Bacewicz and her memorable recordings of Szymanowski’s chamber music, in multiple performances.
Rowicki directs the Britten cleverly; he starts off much slower than John Barbirolli, whose (at the time unpublished) recording of the original version with Theo Olof starts tersely; but Rowicki soon accelerates, adjusting tempi and rubati finely. Wilkomirska remains sweet, and focused, of tone throughout even when she moves into the higher positions, where her intonation remains unsullied. The dance episodes, where her pizzicati are clear and well projected, come over just as well. And her assurance is perhaps at its zenith in her playing of the Passacaglia, which is powerful, virtuosic, expressively cogent, and where we find she retains virtuosity and tonal vibrance to the very end.
This joins the admittedly small discography of the work, and does so on sheer merit. Significantly, it predates the composer’s own recording with Mark Lubotsky and Ida Haendel’s with Berglund.
Rowicki directs a compelling, dramatic Tchaikovsky Four. I was rather dreading listening to it, having suffered a glut of performances recently, and it’s difficult not to feel jaded sometimes. Ah, but when you hear how Rowicki steps on the gas, retaining a taut grip throughout, you won’t be jaded. At times I wondered if this wasn’t Golovanov in disguise. With a sweeping battalion of strings at his disposal, punctuating brass and amazingly vivid percussion definition, courtesy of another of Orchestral Concert’s top class microphone placements, this is a seismic rendition of the symphony. Climaxes drive ever onward, tension is built with incremental strength. Fortunately the rest of the symphony is very fine too, though more conventional in outline. It’s warm, finely performed, the ‘village band’ winds in the Scherzo are wryly deployed and the high winds cuts through brilliantly, like supersonic jet fighters. The finale balances the opening movement in strength, with more vitality, rhythmically tensile playing, and though not of itself fast seems the more animated by virtue of stresses and grip.
As a bonus there is the Moniuszko Mazur, delectably done, in a way that rouses the audience to excited applause.
Hair-shirt production values from this company ensure that terrific concerts such as this have a continuing and richly deserved afterlife.
Jonathan Woolf



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