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Eugeniusz MORAWSKI (1876-1948)
Symphonic Poems
Don Quichotte (1909) [17.08]
Ulalume (1914-17) [24:32]
Nevermore (1911) [16.16]
Sinfonia Varsovia/Monika Wolińska
rec. 15-16 Feb 2011, 28 July 2011, Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw
CD ACCORD ACD 176-2 [58:11]

Brace yourself for another rambling discursive review.
Now this disc presents some really recondite stuff. Very welcome it is too as it pushes out yet further the boundaries of our musical knowledge and appreciation.
Eugeniusz Morawski-Dąbrowa studied at the Sigmund Noskowski Institute of Music in Warsaw. After a brush with the Russian authorities he was instructed to leave the country and settled in Paris where he further developed both musical and painting skills. By 1930 he was able to return to Poland as director of the Poznan Conservatory then headed the Warsaw Conservatory in 1932-1939. He wrote a great deal, much of which appears to have been lost in the destruction that laid waste to Warsaw in the 1940s. The three tone poems here are, it seems, all that survives. Quite apart from anything else there are or were three complete and two incomplete operas, three ballet scores, six symphonies including the Promethean Symfonję and three other tone poems apart from the one recorded here, two piano concertos and a violin concerto.
Morawski is reputed to have written nine symphonic poems in his youth inspired by the examples of Richard Strauss and of his close friend, Mikalojus Čiurlionis whose tone poem The Sea (Jura) was reviewed here in 2008. The Sea can also be heard from the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Juozas Domarkas on Marco Polo 8.223323 in harness with Čiurlionis’s In The Forest (Miske).
This Don Quixote is musically diffuse but atmospheric and with no shortage of rhetorical flourishes, both gaunt and tragic. It recalls the tone poems of Richard Strauss and of Granville Bantock. Strauss also wrote an extended tone poem on Don Quixote but Morawski’s work reminded me somewhat of the garrulous yet engaging Strauss Macbeth and the more successful and cogently structured Don Juan. In 2012 I heard my first-ever concert performance of Bantock’s orchestral tone poem Fifine at the Fair (Macclesfield). Don Quichotte breathes the same air as that work and two of Bantock’s other tone poems: The Witch of Atlas and Dante and Beatrice (review).
An obscure generation of orchestral tone poems was liberated by the European and American late-romantics. In Poland there were tone poems by Noskowski (review) and Mieczysław Karłowicz. Czechoslovakia yielded up some very effective examples by Novak (review review) and Fibich (review). Karłowicz can be heard on Chandos (review review), Dux (review) and Naxos (review review) but the trend also extended to Bainton and Boughton (Dutton CDLX 7262) in England and in the USA to Horatio Parker, Victor Herbert and Arthur Farwell (review), Louis Coerne (review) and, slightly earlier, Edward MacDowell (review).
Coming back - for a moment - to the specifics of Morawski, both Ulalume and Nevermore are Poe-based inspirations. They are heavy with the sort of gloomy beauty that Rachmaninov tapped in The Isle of the Dead although except in generalised nature that work has nothing to do with Poe. Rachmaninov was the same composer who was also inspired by Poe in his choral and orchestral masterpiece The Bells even if this was Poe in translation, further translated. Each of these Morawski pieces owes its origin to an eponymous poem. Ulalume presents a silvery chiming character with nobly paid-out themes. Nevermore attains a scorching Straussian magnificence (10:06) and then falls back exhausted. The music is groaningly gaunt and at its close is bathed in a desolate starlit musing.
You might want to skip the next self-indulgent paragraph if you would rather confine yourself to Morawski.
The Poe connection was a musically fruitful one and I hope that other conductors, orchestras, researchers, repertoire scouts and record companies will develop this. There is plenty of scope for adventurous orchestral collections including Edgar Stillman Kelley’s 1930s The Pit and the Pendulum alongside Edward Burlingame Hill’s The Fall of the House of Usher (1920), Jurgis Karnovicius’s Ulalume (1916) and two concertante works by Jaromir Weinberger: The Raven for cello and orchestra and The Devil in the Belfry for violin and orchestra, both dating from 1940. Ulalume was the subject of a tone poem by Joseph Holbrooke (1878-1958) who wrote more than thirty works setting or inspired by Poe’s writings. This has been recorded by the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and Adrian Leaper on Marco Polo 8.223446 and by the Brandenburg State Orchestra Frankfurt conducted by Howard Griffiths on CPO 777 442. Holbrooke was obsessed with Poe: you can hear his tone poem The Pit and the Pendulum on Dutton. Allen Creighton, an American composer, I think, also wrote a Ulalume symphonic poem for orchestra in 1935. The Raven aka Nevermore drew melodramas for orator with orchestra from Arthur Berger, Arcady Dubensky and neglected English composer Stanley Hawley. The Raven inspired tone poems from Richard Haasz (1913), Alvin Kranich (1925) and Frederick Zech (1902). There’s also a 1906 cantata The Raven for chorus and orchestra from Bertram Shapleigh (1871-1940). These are potentially fruitful areas for adventurers ready to present to the Fates a valiant face and a deep pocket.
Strangely enough Morawski’s Nevermore receives here its second recording. The first was on the EDA label - Poland Abroad with the Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt Orchestra under Jürgen Bruns. The disc also included Fitelberg’s orchestral Song of the Falcon.
The present disc is of music that is well played, recorded and documented.
It is perhaps of specialised interest but these tone poems are vibrantly strong on atmosphere and well worth knowing about.
Rob Barnett