Zygmunt NOSKOWSKI (1846-1909)
Orchestral Works - Volume 1
Morskie Oko (1875) [13:07]
Symphony No. 1 in A major (1875) [44:19]
Pan Zolzikiewicz – overture (1888) [6:42]
National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gabriel Chmura (Morskie); Slawek A Wrůblewski (symphony); Zygmunt Rychert (Pan)
rec. Polish Radio, 28 August 2003 (Morskie); 2 September 2004 (symphony); 23 February 2001 (Pan)
STERLING CDS1083-2 [64:35]
Orchestral Works - Volume 2
Symphony No. 2 in C minor Elegiac (1875-79) [33:27]
Odgłosy Pamiątkowe (Commemorative Sounds) (1904-05) [11:28]
Variations on an Original Theme (before 1883) [7:40]
Polish Radio Orchestra/Łukasz Borowicz
rec. Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio, Polish Radio, Warsaw, March 2009
STERLING CDS1093-2 [52:27]
Orchestral Works - Volume 3
Symphony No. 3 in F major From Spring to Spring (1904) [39:39]
From the Life of the Nation (1901) [31:05]
Livia Quintilla - Prelude to Act II (1898) [4:11]
Elegiac Polonaise (1885) [2:57]
Narodowa Orkiestra Symfoniczna Polskiego Radio Katowice/Jose Maria Florencio
Polska Orkiestra Radiowa Warszawa/Lukasz Borowicz
rec. Grzegorz Fitelberg Concert Hall, Katowice, 28 May-1 June 2012 (Symphony); Witold Lutoslawski Concert Hall of Polish Radio, 26 January-1 February 2000.
STERLING CDS1101-2 [77:52]
Noskowski was a native of Warsaw and his principal music teacher there was Stanisław Moniuszko. His further studies took him to Berlin and working under Friedrich Kiel. His return to the Polish capital saw him soon become the hub of musical activity including being conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic. Noskowski's students included Mieczyslaw Karlowicz (1876-1909) who tragically died in the same year as his teacher. Noskowski's music has subsisted under eclipse by both earlier and later generations. Chopin and Szymanowski specifically and more recently, so far as record labels, are concerned Panufnik and Weinberg. His music is of the DvořŠk, Brahms and Tchaikovsky generation.
The issue of the third and final volley in Sterling's Noskowski campaign is the cue for a survey of all three discs, especially as we have had little chance to survey Noskowski otherwise; an exception being his tone poem The Steppe (review). Not that we should forget the Elegiac Polonaise and Morskie Oko (Lake in the Tatras) on a Witold Rowicki disc with the Polish NSO Warsaw on long-deleted Olympia OCD389.
All these Sterling-issued recordings derive from Polish Radio tapes - all, I would guess, prepared for broadcast. The sound is never less than good despite the variety of orchestra, venues and engineers involved. They were made 2000-2012 in what has become a joint project between the ever-admirable Sterling and Polish Radio. The documentation in each case is extensive, avoids undue musicological musing and is in both Polish and English. Given the absence of a known performing tradition all I can report is that the playing seems spirited and gives every appearance of the musicians having confidence in the music.
The music of Morskie Oko can be equated with that of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony - all sun-dappled woodlands but the score begins in the curdled gloom we know from Balakirev's Tamara. Along the way this score glowers in the manner of Beethoven's Coriolan overture. It was premiered in Breslau.
The contemporaneous large-scale First Symphony is in four movements which track through a rural DvořŠkian charm that may remind you of the music of Fibich which has enjoyed an impressively endearing series on Naxos. There's a very touching Adagio Cantabile - honeyed and superbly done - and a zesty Vivace which is played with eagerness. Again there's a touch of Fibich about this music and even of Bizet and Borodin. The finale is warm and robust in the way of Schumann's Rhenish but with the stomping kinetic force of Beethoven 7.
The Pan Zolzikiewicz overture is a jaunty little piece with a touch or two of Turkish pomp and Polish aquiline pride; in fact something of a Radetzky strut.
Volume 2 starts with the four-movement Elegiac Symphony which is part Brahmsian-heroic and part Tchaikovskian passionate. There's a Furiant-inflected scherzo which again suggests the pictorial symphonic caste found in Beethoven's Pastoral or the headily whooping DvořŠk scherzos. The elegiac third movement moves from funeral cortŤge (inevitably recalling Elgar 1 or Polonia) to Tchaikovskian fury with a bite of resentment and revenge. The finale is gaunt and scores deep and ragged channels across the firmament before launching a heroic charge. This rises to a victorious hymn. The writing has vitality which is picked up on by an orchestra playing as if possessed by the urgency of discovery. The only tarnish is the closing gesture which is tarred with convention. The writing otherwise has a sufficiency of freshness. The performance has fire to make it well worth your exploration. It is superbly recorded.
The Commemorative Sounds Suite is in seven movements. These very short miniatures traverse nationalist glory, sentimental hymns, sprightly humour, honeyed intimacies, nodding plumes and military pride. The whole thing is over in the space of a concert overture.
The Variations on an Original Theme comprise a theme and seven little variations, each shorter than the movements of Commemorative Sounds. Boredom never enters in. The movements are variously serenely Brahmsian in the manner of the St. Anthony Variations or Academic Festival Overture. At the close there's a bold resolution and staunchly calling brass bring things to a resounding conclusion.
Volume 3 and Symphony No. 3. This is another four-movement lanky disquisition shaped around the turning seasons and ending in a winter movement that embraces the stormily bursting buds of spring. It's a work that may be familiar to night owls as it has been broadcast in what I suspect is this very performance by BBC Radio 3's Through the Night - the home of many neglected glories and discoveries.
This pictorial Symphony progresses via a melancholically predestined Mahlerian route from spring to winter. We start with Spring in what is a sweet-tempered pastoral yet with a taut symphonic tension about it. Here is a skilled mature composer well able to mobilise deep-pile romantic orchestration. Listen at 8:51 to the sunny chipper wind writing This dates from the same year as the Paderewski Symphony which is a quite different and more darkly clouded work, though ultimately self-indulgent (review ~ review). Summer is memorable for the sweet work of solo harp and cor anglais and shares a mood with Suk's A Summer Tale of 1907 (review ~ review) if not his much later Ripening of 1917 (review ~ review). There are some very inventive soloistic moments including a long and piercing violin solo (6:23) rising to a swaying summery royalty worthy of the warmest moments in Glazunov's The Seasons. Autumn conveys a sort of harvest-home - rather like the folk suites of Ludolf Nielsen or Goldmark's Rustic Wedding. I mentioned Glazunov earlier but if this movement has any parallels with that composer it is with the Seventh Symphony - The Pastoral. Winter tightens the tension again with some lovely writing: the glorious and masterful silver cackle of the violin at 6:10 and at 8:30 a conventional optimistic striding march. This romps along, achieving a joyous ending. Overall this indulgent work is more pictorial cavalcade than tense symphony. Its optimism is reflected in the title: Noskowski was not going to end with the tragic wastes of Winter.
From the Life of the Nation is in 18 separately-tracked segments. Behind this title stands a set of orchestral variations on Chopin's Prelude in A Minor Op. 28 No. 7. The Prelude itself is very warmly stated. The lustrous variations are nicely pointed and variegated, limned in by ripe, chattery gumbootedly playful woodwind (6-7-8), Brahmsian sidling (9) and Tchaikovskian gallantry (10). The music is given the grand ballroom treatment (13), sentimentality (14) and a romantic winter shiver (15-16). An episode sports some very romantic soft focus work for a sweet-toned solo violin (18). Other variations encompass the stately and the serene with some delicate balletic magic (20) and some rompingly confident jollity (21). This work would contrast well with the Enigma Variations as well as the Tchaikovsky suites, especially Numbers 3 and 4.
The Prelude to Act II of the 1898 opera Livia Quintilla is a quality piece - dense with lyrical Tchaikovskian succulence and poignant melancholy. Noskowski's way with wisps of melody is most impressive and in this case there is no crashing drama or thunder and lightning. I wonder what the chances are of hearing this opera not to mention his Wyrok (The Judgment) and Zemsta za mur graniczny (Revenge for the Boundary Wall). There are also said to be several operettas, vaudevilles and ‘folk pictures’. The placidly rounded, kindly and dignified Elegiac Polonaise is similarly pleasing.
Despite the variety of forces and locations the sounds across this last disc's 78 minutes is agreeable if hardly brilliant. That said it's richer among the last three works on volume 3 than in the Symphony No. 3.