Mieczyslaw KARŁOWICZ(1876-1909)
Serenade Op.2 (1897) [22:03]
Violin Concerto in A major Op.8 (1902) [29:23]
Ilya Kaler (violin)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. November and December 2008, Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall
NAXOS 8.572274 [51:37]

Karłowiczís Violin Concerto has been the object of quite some interest of late. A late-Romantic work of great warmth and terrific themes it impinges itself with immediacy, and can take a fairly broad range of approaches. Ilya Kaler, Moscow born, international Gold Medallist of successively the Tchaikovsky, Sibelius and Paganini competitions, is a fine player and a good choice to explore the concertoís ripe cantilever.

And this isnít the first time that the Warsaw Philharmonic has recorded the work, as they did so with Konstanty Kulka and conductor Kazimierz Kord back in this hall in 1999 [CD Accord ACD071-2]. The same violinist taped a performance with Rowicki two decades earlier (Olympia OCD304) and is one of the concertoís outstanding practitioners. Wit, too, has already recorded it, with Kaja Danczowska and the Polish Radio Orchestra, Cracow [CDM LDC 278 1088]. So thereís real pedigree here.

Still, I was a touch disappointed. The opening solo cadential flourish is nowhere near as arresting as it could be; both Nigel Kennedy in his live recording with Jacek Kaspszyk and the Polish Chamber Orchestra (EMI 3799342) and indeed Tasmin Little with the BBC Scottish and Martyn Brabbins [Hyperion CDA67389] offer far more in the way of risk taking commitment (the former) and imaginative phrasing (the latter). Similarly the BBC Scottish has, perhaps surprisingly, a greater range of string depth than the Warsaw Philharmonic, as recorded, and is also more dramatic more often. Kaler is effusively lyric, his tone bleaching a bit in the higher positions, has nice bright trills but snatches at his phrases occasionally. Little is by some way the more touchingly romanticised performer, Kennedy the more combative and challenging. Little keeps a fluid sense of direction in the lovely slow movement and despite being substantially faster than Kaler doesnít sound rushed. If you donít warm to Kennedyís rather slow tempo, you will find Kaler more than acceptable here, though he cedes in matters of colour and vibrato speed. The same is true in the finale which is fine as far as it goes, only both Little and Kennedy take it that much further. The wit and panache they bring to it in their different ways are missing in Kalerís rather undernourished traversal. If you want relative plainness Kaler is your man, but I would search further afield.

The Serenade is a very early work, his first orchestral piece. Interpretatively itís always seemed to me bulletproof ó with a March, a Romance, a Waltz and to cap things a charming finale. This is an enjoyable performance though it doesnít sound especially captivating and Iíve heard warmer voiced accounts. In fact thatís a bit of a problem throughout the disc; good but nowhere near outstanding performances.

Jonathan Woolf

Good but nowhere near outstanding performances.