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Zygmunt NOSKOWSKI (1846-1909)
Orchestral Works - Volume 2
Symphony No. 2 in C minor “Elegijna”, (1875 -79) [33.17]
Odglosy pamiątkowe (Commemorative sounds) (1904-05) [11.28]
Variations in E minor on an original theme (before 1883) [7.40]
Łukasz Borowicz (conductor)
Polska Orkiestra Radiowa
rec. Lutosławski Concert Studio, Polish Radio, Warsaw, March 2009
STERLING CDS1093-2 [52.57]

This is the second in a series of Noskowski recordings from the enterprising Sterling Classics. Volume 1 (CDS1083-2) includes the First Symphony and Volume 3 (CDS1101-2), the Third. Such interest is justified as he was a major figure in Polish musical life, not simply because of his own (impressive) music but his influence on others. Szymanowski was one of his pupils. Each of the CDs has more minor works as fillers.

In many respects, Symphony No 2, recorded here, is more impressive than the First: tauter in its ideas and somehow more confident. It has elements of national flavour, and what might be dismissed as yet another example of nineteenth century light-from darkness structure. But to leave it at that would be to be unjust to vigorous and confident writing. The inspiration may well have been the failed anti-Tsarist uprising of 1863, and the most significant movement is the Andante Elegia, here placed third, a noble and expressive utterance, sometimes funereal, with moments of something close to despair, despite some achingly beautiful moments. The ability to sustain such a mood across almost ten minutes, without loss of intensity, is remarkable.

The first movement has a darkness of its own, especially in the rather tentative opening (marked Moderato misterioso) and overall minor mode, despite some more excited music, notably in the coda. The second movement is a vivacious krakowiak-as-scherzo, but descends into something more sombre. Perhaps the weakest movement is the finale, more superficially heroic (and apparently written first) than the others, in which some themes seem a bit conventional, yet there is much worth following. Perhaps the very peremptoriness of some of the ideas is appropriate given the overall mood of the symphony, recalled atmospherically about halfway through this movement, about four minutes from the beginning.

The other two works on the CD are less significant, though not without their own beauties. Odglosy pamiątkowe is the more interesting of the two, from late in Noskowski’s career, based on arrangements of Polish songs and marches. There is a patriotic flavour but also an enjoyment of different instrumental possibilities. Continual reference to military success characterises most of the pieces. The very first piece is based on a polonaise written by Tadeusz Kościuszko, hero not only of Poland and Lithuania but also of the American Revolutionary War.

The seven variations of Variations in E minor on an original theme are well-made but usually too brief to make much impression. Only the last two are more than a minute long.

Performances are committed and thoughtful.

Michael Wilkinson
Previous review: Rob Barnett


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