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Mieczysław KARŁOWICZ (1876-1909)
Violin Concerto in A major, Op.8 [24:47]
A Sorrowful Tale 'Preludes to Eternity', Op.13 [8:50]
Lithuanian Rhapsody, Op.11 [19:06]
Bartłomiej Nizioł (violin)
Mieczysław Karłowicz Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra in Szczecin/Łukasz Borowicz
rec. June & August 2016, Symphony Hall, Mieczysław Karłowicz Philharmonic in Szczecin
DUX 1377 [55:59]

Mieczysław Karłowicz’s tragic early death at the age of thirty-two, in an avalanche whilst skiing in the Tatra mountains, robbed the world of a unique musical talent. Although Lithuanian by birth, he lived most of his short life in Warsaw. The symphonic poem was the genre with which he was most comfortable, and there are two examples here. We also have the Violin Concerto, penned when he was twenty-six, and probably his best-known work. The Polish Dux label must be lauded for their championing of this lesser-known composer, and this is their latest offering. I’m only familiar with one of their previous releases, the Symphony in E minor ‘Rebirth’, an attractive work, lyrically effusive (review).

Testimony to the Violin Concerto’s popularity, there are about half a dozen recordings currently in the catalogue, and this is encouraging. I’d like to hear it performed more in concert though. I got to know it originally via Wanda Wilkomirska’s terrific 1963 recording on the Polskie Nagrania ‘Muza’ label (PNCD 142), and more recently in Nigel Kennedy’s EMI traversal (3799342).

The Concerto presents a more sunny aspect than the other two accompanying works. Whilst some have noted a closeness in style to Tchaikovsky, the work reminds me more of the Glazunov Concerto. It’s a lushly romantic score, generous on melody and guaranteed to seduce the listener with its beguiling lyricism. Karłowicz takes a leaf out of Mendelssohn’s book by introducing the second movement Romanza without a break. Once again we are charmed by the violin’s vocal line. An easy going, genial finale ends the work with a smile. Bartłomiej Nizioł delivers a particularly alluring performance. Not only does he play with warmth and feeling, but in the finale he brings both rhythmic audacity and stunning technical command.

Several years ago, Dux brought out a 2 CD set of Karłowicz’s complete symphonic poems (a reissue of a short-lived Chant du Monde set) recorded in the early 1980s by the Silesian State Philharmonic Orchestra and Jerzi Salwarowski, and enthusiastically reviewed by Rob Barnett in 2000 and in a 2009 reissue by William Kreindler - review) I haven't had the pleasure of hearing that compilation, but two of the symphonic poems have been newly recorded here. A Sorrowful Tale, Op. 13 is a brooding, darkly etched canvas. Its solemn theme portrays the final thoughts of a man about to commit suicide. Some have speculated that the piece was triggered by the composer's own bouts of depression. Did he contemplate suicide? It is richly orchestrated and there are times when Richard Strauss seems influential.

Karłowicz turns to authentic folk melodies upon which to base his Lithuanian Rhapsody. Though not as sombre as A Sorrowful Tale, it has its dark recesses, but there are lighter moments. Once again there are hints of Richard Strauss, but Tchaikovsky is stylistically closer. Even Sibelius gets his foot in the door, briefly. Regret and unfulfilled yearning seem foremost in the composer's mind for most of the time. It is deftly crafted and colourfully orchestrated.

Łukasz Borowicz’s inspired readings should win this outstandingly captivating music many friends. I couldn’t imagine these works better played. Added to this, Dux has come up with something sonically pleasing.

Stephen Greenbank



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