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Feliks NOWOWIEJSKI (1877-1946)
Symphony No. 2, Op. 52 (1938) [31:32]
Symphony No. 3, Op. 53 (1940) [41:46]
Orkiestra Symfoniczna Filharmonii Poznańskiej/Łukasz Borowicz
rec. 2017, University Auditorium Concert Hall of the Poznan Philharmonic
DUX 1446 [73:19]

Overture to the oratorio The Return of the Prodigal Son, Op. 3 (1902) [13:38]
Beatrix Symphonic poem, Op. 17 No. 1 (1903) [20:11]
Nina and Pergolesi Symphonic fantasy, Op. 17 No. 2 (1903) [18:19]
Overture to the opera The Legend of the Baltic Sea, Op. 28 (1924) [12:37]
Overture to the opera-ballet The King of the Winds, Op. 37 (1927) [13:06]
Andrzej Krawiec (violin); Andrzej Szajda (double bass)
Orkiestra Symfoniczna Filharmonii Opolskiej/Przemysław Neumann
rec. 2017, Jozef Elsner Opole Philharmonic Hall, Poland
DUX 1425 [77:51]

Missa Pro Pace for mixed choir, organ and orchestra op. 49 no. 3 (1936) [36:12]
Missa Stella Maris for mixed choir and organ op. 49 no. 4 (1937) [31:28]
Anna Dramowicz (organ); Maciej Ingielewicz (organ)
Olsztyn Chamber Choir 'Collegium Musicum'/Janus Wilinski
Olsztyn Symphony Orchestra/Janusz Przybylski
rec. 2014, Poland
DUX 0683 [67:40]

Quo Vadis - Dramatic scenes for solo voices, choir, organ and orchestra after Henryk Sienkiewicz op. 30 (1907/1909) [95:50]
Aleksandra Kurzak (soprano) - Ligia; Artur Ruciński (baritone) - Apostle Peter; Sebastian Szumski (baritone) - Cantor; Rafał Siwek (bass) - Leader of the Praetorians; Arkadiusz Bialic (organ)
Górecki Chamber Choir; Orkiestra Symfoniczna Warmińsko-Mazurskiej Filharmonii im. Felixa Nowowiejskiego w Olsztynie/Piotr Sułkowski
rec. 2016, FN Warmia and Mazury Philharmonic Concert Hall, Olsztyn
DUX 1327/8 [64:55 + 31:05]

Among Poles born in the nineteenth century Ignacy Paderewski and Mieczyslaw Karłowicz (1876-1909) can hardly be said to count as neglected after the efforts of the last twenty years. Standing above them all is Szymanowski, who was born after Nowowiejski and died almost ten years before him. Still in the crowded repertoire wastelands are the very promising works of Witold Maliszewski, Eugeniusz Morawski, Zygmunt Noskowski and Emil Mlynarski. Maliszewski is a promising prospect - something along the lines of the orchestral Glazunov. Morawski, a Poe-enthusiast, is strong on overwhelmingly brooding atmosphere. Noskowski's achievements sit somewhere between and a few steps back from Tchaikovsky, Dvořák and Fibich. As for Mlynarski - for many years conductor of the Scottish National Orchestra - his Symphony Polonia and Violin Concerto No 2 (Polski Nagrania PNCD 074) are rather low-key efforts that do not encourage further assay. A Hyperion CD that has Mlynarski's two violin concertos at centre-field has been more encouragingly received. There are many others Polish composers trapped in the undergowth of time as we know from leafing through the Acte Préalable catalogue I would not be surprised if there are surprises to come.

To the extent that Polish composer Feliks Nowowiejski has been known about at all it is on account of his choral and organ music; there are nine organ symphonies. Efforts in Poland have changed that position in the last few years. There are no fewer than two recordings of his epic oratorio Quo Vadis based on the book by Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz. That oratorio been recorded by both Dux and CPO. Dux have also issued CDs of his DUX0603 Sea Songs for mixed choir and DUX0604 Polish Folksongs from Warmja. The Polish company Acte Préalable has also recorded a selection of his piano music. These four discs serve the often densely orchestrated music well and the extended dates for recording sessions show that time and effort have been lavished to allow the inspiration of the musicians and Nowowiejski to extends its wings. Sound quality is uniformly good across the four releases with each made at a different location. The informative programme notes, which are in Polish and English, are more than helpful with such unknown music. They are by Marcin Gmys and Maciej Negrey and conductor Łukasz Borowicz, whose valour and discriminating judgement in putting his name to such a project are to be applauded.

The First Symphony in B minor (1904) is lost. The two symphonies featured here were written between the ages of 61 and 63. The Symphony No. 2 (Labour and Rhythm) is, unusually enough, in seven movements, each separately tracked. Textures are more airy than the often congested luxury of the works of the 1900s and 1920s. They still do not quite escape Nowowiejski's predilection for cloying density as he strains every sinew for majestic expression or intense emotion. The opening Andante mesto is not immune from another tendency of his for magnificence to deliquesce into the poetic and the statuesque. The brassily celebratory stomping Allegro moderato e molto ritmico (II) almost convinces you that he might have heard some of Honegger's more modernistic scores. The Grave - Allegro gaio weaves a looser and more open texture. This is pensive and then gives way to a dancing folksy fugality. The Adagio misterioso e molto tranquillo (V) is warm and dreamy. The penultimate Allegro vivace has the dynamic qualities of a Nielsen scherzo but some of the objectivity of Honegger and of hats tossed in the air Gallic exuberance; the letter reminiscent of the symphonies of Laszlo Lajtha.
 
Symphony No. 3 is dedicated to Iris, the goddess of the rainbow. More conventionally structured than its predecessor, it is in four movements. There's a whooping Allegro molto vivo ed energico which keeps up the physically athletic expression of praise carried over from the finale of the Second Symphony. Richly bedecked reflective impressions provide contrast. An extended Andante tranquillo con espressione (II) murmurs and lilts. It seems to take its cue from Frank Bridge's There is a Willow and Song of My Heart. A jaunty Scherzando (Tempo di Marcia) is followed by a finale which eccentrically enough is a glistening Lento tranquillamente which in its chiming rainbow reflections sounds like Malcolm Arnold. Clearly the Poznań Philharmonic Orchestra under Łukasz Borowicz have given of their best in these two works. Who knows, but I think Nowowiejski would have been pleased. There is said to be a Fourth Symphony (Of Peace) from 1945 and also a concerto each for cello and for violin from 1939-40.

The second disc of orchestral works presents scores written before the two symphonies and created in the first three decades of the twentieth century. The first three are from the 1900s. The Overture to the oratorio The Return of the Prodigal Son is introvertedly lavish and romantically pensive - prone to Delian soliloquies. Beatrix, a symphonic poem, is dreamy and drips with romantic feeling if not with startlingly fast music. More propulsive contrast would have engaged and held the imagination. The Nina and Pergolesi symphonic fantasy is another brooding Wagnerian poem with Tchaikovskian moments. Then Dux turn to the 1920s. Nowowiejski had not become any less ambitious at this time. His grand romantic style continues in the Overture to the opera The Legend of the Baltic Sea (1924). The music sounds rather like Bantock - try his Dante and Beatrice and Fifine at the Fair. The composer is liberal in his invention and this extends to a leaning, or even surrender, to lavish orchestration which clearly came naturally to him. Again, a little more oxygen-rich dynamism might have helped Nowowiejski's case. Those sighing languorous paragraphs do tend to weigh things down. The overture to the opera-ballet The King of the Winds (1927) is again inclined to heavy damask textures and broad grandiloquence. The solo violin passages in this score and in The Return are sweetly delivered and certainly help the composer's case.

The third disc was issued a few years back. Nowowiejski must have been compellingly drawn to the Mass as a subject. He wrote nine of them: Pastoral (1946); Mother of God (1947); Mariae Claromontanae; de Lisieux; Pro Pace (1935); Stella Maris (1937), de Lourdes, Christus spes mea and Gregorianska. Only four have been published and two of them feature on this CD. The Missa Pro Pace is for mixed choir, organ and orchestra. It is dignified and includes a dramatic organ role contrasting with a tactful orchestral part. In this version the voices sound tentative; we could have done with a larger choir. Its Gloria is Beethovenian and the whole thing feels rather old-fashioned though the Sanctus is bouncingly exuberant. The quiet Benedictus and a subdued Agnus Dei with an unadorned tone confirm the work as supplicatory and devout. On the evidence of what we hear he was not going to sully the Mass with undue drama or the extremes of emotion. The Stella Maris Mass is from a couple of years later. Its simplicity, intimacy and pristine values and a lack of grandstanding confirm the composer as a supplicant. He stands as a Polish echo of George Dyson: sincere, unshowy and devoid of any inclination to draw attention to himself rather than the devotional aspects when it came to writing for the Church.

Such restraint was a studied choice made for the Mass. Things are quite different for Quo Vadis as represented on the last Dux release in this survey. This traces its origins to the composer's stay in Rome in 1903, when at his early zenith of fame, after receiving the Giacomo Meyerbeer award, he set out to compose an oratorio based on Henryk Sienkiewicz 1896 novel Quo Vadis. He was not the first composer to be drawn to this book. Five years earlier, Młynarski, began working on his opera Ligia which remained unfinished. The original version of the Nowowiejski work is presented on this release. I would refer readers to Richard Hanlon's review of this disc for a detailed appraisal. I would just add a few impressions along the way. The work has a sort of nationalistic belligerence about it and this is typical of Fibich and of Sibelius in Finlandia and Kullervo. The grand Meyerbeer-style martial marching scenes are underscored by whooping horns (tr. 5, CD1). The effect in this big blast of a piece is sustained by the gigantic sound of the choir. Teutonic aquiline marches are decorated with many echoing fanfares. Of the soloists Rafal Siwek is a sonorous stentor of a bass. Time after time this version convinces as a good performance that is wondrously and blazingly lit. In scene III all that Roman glory is off-set by the first really calm music bringing harp-decorated peace: this is not oblivion but blessing. Tr. 2 on CD 2 returns the listener to storm clouds and deep dark night through which a smooth undulating line proceeds. In tr. 5 of CD2 we return to yet more heroic writing and that staunch rhythmic nationalism typical of the early Dvořák symphonies and Smetana in parts of Má Vlast. In tr. 7 a double fugue blazes along gilding the skies and at the words Glory be to father Nowowiejski achieves a tinkling heavenly evocation recalling Saint-Saëns' Organ Symphony. In tr. 11 the soprano's Wagnerian religiosity is presented against the backdrop of moonlit violins that entwine the solo. As the work closes a most peaceful atmosphere is asserted; one the least wracked by the extremes of emotion. The composer seems determined to leave us in no doubt that this is a lofty work.

These releases present some of the various faces of Nowowiejski and surely there are more to come. Quo Vadis is quite extraordinary but the symphonies, while hardly the sort of tormented testaments one might have expected from their dates, are intriguing. I do hope that we will soon get to hear the Fourth Symphony and those two concertos.

Rob Barnett

Previous reviews: Jim Westhead (overtures) ~ Richard Hanlon (Quo Vadis)


 

 




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