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Stanisław MONIUSZKO (1819-1872)
Bajka (The Fairy Tale) - Overture (1848) [13:26]
Paria - Opera: Overture (1859-69) [9:46]
Halka - Opera: Overture (1848) [8:36]
Verbum nobile - Opera: Overture (1860) [5:16]
Flis (The Raftsman) - Opera: Overture (1858) [10:02]
Hrabina (The Countess) - Opera: Overture (1859) [9:00]
Straszny dwór (The Haunted Manor) - Opera: Intrada (1864) [4:10]
Jawnuta - Idyll: Overture (1860) [4:11]
Nowy Don Kiszot, czyli Sto szaleństw (The New Don Quixote, or 100 Follies) - Opera: Overture (1841) [7:34]
Kochanka hetmańska (The Hetman’s Mistress) Opera: Overture (orch. Zygmunt Noskowski) (1854) [7:25]
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, Poland, 10-12 January 2011 (tracks 1 and 2), 3-5 and 7, 14 February 2011 (tracks 3-6, 8-10), 1 September 2011 (track 7)
NAXOS 8.572716 [79:28]

Moniuszko’s natural heartland was Polish nationalist opera although there are plenty of songs and some masses (here and here). His seemingly frictionless and flighty melodic skills lie somewhere north of bel canto and somewhere south of Tchaikovsky. This collection of operatic overtures stretches across twenty years and is quite charming. It will probably have you looking for the complete operas - good hunting, though Dux have done some valuable work here (Paria; Halka; Flis). The success of this most generously timed disc can be equated with one of my Recordings of the Year: Somm’s British operatic overtures. If you liked the Somm collection you will love this.
Bajka is the longest overture on this 80-minute CD and bristles with strutting pride, evergreen and bird song. It is a freestanding concert overture and can be bracketed very approximately with the Liszt and Tchaikovsky tone poems. You may have heard it already if you know the CD-Accord disc of Polish orchestral music. If Tchaikovsky can be glimpsed in Bajka then it’s a case of Schumann meets stormy Tchaikovsky in Paria which itself sports a lovely whispered melody (2:50) - clearly a Moniuszko speciality. Halka alongside The Haunted Manor have lent Moniuszko’s name a modest fame. I am not familiar with the whole opera but while jolly enough it does not strike me as superior to Paria. Indeed some of it rattles and crashes like one of the Vienna Strausses’ operatic overtures, yet with some imaginative strokes redolent of Weber and Mendelssohn (6:10). Verbum Nobile is a later work from a one-act opera poking fun at the ways of the aristocracy. It is a light overture which has something of the tang and crash of a Suppé overture. Flis has less of the crash-bang-wallop of Verbum Nobile. Oddly enough its quiet musings reminded me at first of the dreamy aspects of Arensky’s Dream on the Volga and Lyapunov’s Zelazowa Vola. These static aspects are cast aside for an energetic national dance; the whole running to ten minutes. Hrabina has a Dvořákian accent recalling the Czech Dances. A formula is in evidence here but that is shaken free for the overture to The Haunted Manor which is pregnant with tension in a way not experienced with the other overtures here. Jawnuta, as befits the subject matter of this “idyll in two acts”, has a Hungarian flavour and a most striking part for solo trumpet. The New Don Quixote, or 100 Follies is a three-act operetta “after Cervantes”. It is quite early and after the initial musings this overture bubbles with Beethovenian energy. The last overture is The Hetman’s Mistress. It was scored for piano (four hands) and comes down to us here in an orchestration by Zygmunt Noskowski. More recently Witold Rowicki has made another performing version. This one by Noskowski - a composer whose symphonies I hope Naxos will pick up - presents the Moniuszko we know from the other overtures here.
The playing and engineering is exemplary; my only real criticism is that there is an edge to the violin sound. Otherwise everything is comme il faut from Poland’s capital orchestra and leading conductor. Paul Conway’s notes tell us what we want to know without any opaque and unnecessary musical technicalities.

This collection certainly takes us well beyond the usual Halka and Haunted Manor overtures and does so without any suggestion of choking dust.
Rob Barnett