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Mieczysław KARŁOWICZ (1876-1909)
Violin Concerto in A minor Op. 8 [24:47]
Smutna opowieść (The Sorrowful Tale) op. 13 [8:50]
Rapsodia Litewska (Lithuanian Rhapsody) op. 11 [19:06]
Bartłomiej Nizioł (violin)
Orkiestra Symfoniczna Filharmonii im. M. Karłowicza w Szczecinie/Łukasz Borowicz
rec. 2016, Symphony Hall, Mieczysław Karłowicz Philharmonic, Szczecin
DUX 1377 [55:59]

We can all celebrate now that Karłowicz's Tchaikovskian Violin Concerto can be heard in multiple recordings. I first encountered it and was instantly captivated when a Polish recording (Konstanty Kulka (violin) Polish RTVSO/Krzystof Missona) was broadcast by BBC Radio 3 circa 1979. Among violin concertos this work falls into the category of prized rarities already overcrowded with the likes of E B Hill, de Boeck, Miaskovsky, Ivanovs, Schoeck and Coleridge-Taylor. All of these have done fairly well, some with multiple versions from which to choose and none of them, excepting the Hill, Ivanovs and de Boeck, have had less than their due. As for the present disc Borowicz and Niziol have the idiom to a tee. The violinist avoids the reefs and shallows of vibrato and presents a steady alluring tone. He is nicely matched in verve and style in the middle movement of this 24-minute concerto. The finale has a memorably joyous exuberance and Niziol is matched step for step, twist for twist and spark for spark by Borowicz and his orchestra; the latter is named after the composer.

At just short of 56 minutes there was space for three of Karłowicz's tone poems but two have to suffice. The Sorrowful Tale is atmospherically done in what is a caring performance by this Stettin orchestra. The curve and outline of the music should appeal to those who love the Novak tone poems (compare Falletta's recent Naxos recording). The Sorrowful Tale has a wide-screen tragic intensity rather than a mournful downbeat. The twenty-minute Lithuanian Rhapsody is by no means an exercise in nationalistic colours - its homeland is the darker pages of Balakirev's Thamar; more of a morbid fairytale. The grief of Lithuania's state history is perhaps there but this tale is, we are reminded, inflected by the death of a man who commits suicide. Liner-note writer Piotr Urbansky tells us that this is the first recording to include the gun-shot (7:30) that brings the man's life to an end. The work's subtitle is "Prelude to Eternity" so it can loosely be grouped with Nirvana (1866) by Von Bülow, Griffes' Pleasure Dome and Lyapunov's tone poem Hashish (1912). It has a hyper-romantic quality also picked up on by Bernard Herrmann in his Citizen Kane film music for Xanadu's Garden.

The abstract geometrical design for the booklet reminds me of those Keith Hensby covers for the Lyrita Bax symphonies and the eye-bending design Hyperion used for the LP of Anthony Milner's Symphony No. 1.

Borowicz has done great work in advocating for Panufnik, Rozycki, Noskowski, Stojowski and Dobrzynski. It's good to see his form remaining strong. That said, this disc will face choppy waters in a market that expects to have more music included. As individual performances and recordings these are very good even if the perfectly acceptable tone of this orchestra is not up to plush Philadelphia standards. If you can find it after all these years you might prefer a more generously timed disc collecting the Concerto (Konstanty Kulka) and two different substantial tone poems (CD Accord).

Rob Barnett

Previous reviews: Stephen Greenbank ~ Stuart Sillitoe



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