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Zygmunt NOSKOWSKI (1846-1909)
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 Wróblewski (symphony); Zygmunt Rychert (Pan)
rec. Polish Radio, 28 August 2003 (Morskie); 2 September 2004 (symphony); 23 February 2001 (Pan)
STERLING CDS1083-2 [64:35]

My previous experience of Noskowski has largely been confined to his chamber and instrumental music, which left a mixed impression. His piano music was idiomatic and quite attractive (see review) though I found his violin works operating on an altogether lower level of engagement (review). These were Acte Préalable discs, a company that has forged a strong reputation presenting Polish music, but Sterling has also proved splendid ambassadors for Noskowski, and on a broader canvas too as the Orchestral orks series demonstrates.

The major work in this volume is the First Symphony of 1875 written when he was not quite thirty. Despite its status as something of a ‘prentice’ work it’s colourfully and cleverly orchestrated and shows a fine control of pacing, contrasts, and balance between wind and string lines. There’s a youthful exuberance to some of the writing and something too of a bravado as to form. The slow movement is raptly expressive with melancholic hues – by far the most personalised piece I’ve encountered of his – and warmly lyrical melodies some of which are affectionately spun by the strings. It’s really only the Slavic Scherzo that announces any nationality hints but here the rustic drones and piping village band sonorities summon up a somewhat decorous Highland Tatra ensemble. He suffers a ‘finale problem’ being too predictably reliant on that academic standby, the finale fugue. The symphony was composed whilst he was studying in Berlin with Friedrich Kiel and though Dvořák’s third and fourth symphonies had recently been premiered I suspect Noskowski wouldn’t have known them.

In some ways Noskowski was the pre-Karłowicz master of the Polish symphonic poem. Morskie Oko (Sea Eye in English) was written in the same year as the Symphony in a burst of creativity. It’s an impressive piece of writing, mountain lore replete with lonesome wind cries and strongly-hewn string themes. With hymnal hints and relics of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, the nature and weather painting are attractively contrived. Thirteen minutes pass in no time at all. The last work is the overture to the incidental music from Pan Zolzikiewicz, a later work of 1888 that reveals a plethora of geniality, bumptious bravado, and dancing rhythms. The gentleman of the title must have been an avuncular fellow from the sound of things. Rather cleverly Sterling programmes this as a light-hearted closer.

With excellent performances, from three different conductors but the same forces of the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, and with attractive notes, this is the best of Noskowski I’ve yet encountered.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob Barnett


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