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Witold MALISZEWSKI (1873-1939)
Symphony No 1 in G minor, Op 8 (1902) [35:47]
Joyful Overture, Op 11 (ca.1902) [11:06]
Symphony No 2 in A major, Op 12 (1905) [35:42]
Symphony No 3 in C minor, Op 14 (1907) [37:43]
Symphony No 4 in D major "To the Newborn and Recovered Homeland", Op 21 (1923) [37:64]
Scherzo and Overture honouring Schubert (1928) (Completion of Franz Schubert’s Symphony No 8 in B minor, D. 759 “Unfinished”) [16:13]
Bajka, Op 30 (ca. 1930) [8:11
Legend, Op 31 (ca. 1930) [12:45]
Opole Philharmonic/Przemysław Neumann
rec. 2018-2020, Jozef Elsner Opole Philharmonic Concert Hall, Opole, Poland
DUX 1716-18 [3 CDs: 197:32]

If, like me, this is your first encounter with the Polish-Ukrainian composer Witold Maliszewski, then here’s a bit of biographical context. He was born in Mohyliv-Podilskyi, situated in the Russian Empire (now Ukraine), in 1873. His mother, a piano teacher, home schooled him in his first musical steps. At the age of sixteen he enrolled in a music school that was a branch of the Russian Music Society, studying composition with Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. Later he attended the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in the class of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. His claim to fame was his founding of the Odessa Conservatory, where he became its first director. In 1921, with the imminent threat of Bolshevik persecution, he relocated to Poland. He then fulfilled several teaching posts in Warsaw. He died in Zalesie in 1939. His compositional output includes ballets, symphonies, chamber music, piano pieces and a Requiem. A musical conservative, his compositions bear the imprint of the Russian musical style.

At the time of his emerging as a composer, Maliszewski confronted the dilemma faced by many up-and-coming young composers at the turn of the 20th century, whether to forge new paths or stay rooted in the romantic world of the old order and remain anchored in major-minor tonality. He chose the latter course. His Symphony No 1 in G minor, Op 8, premiered on 19 June 1902 in Pavlovsk and dedicated to his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov “does not open a new music world, but stays in the circle of Russian romantic output.” In it I hear the influence of Glazunov, greatly admired by Maliszewski, the occasional very faint echo of Tchaikovsky and unsurprisingly Rimsky-Korsakov. The second movement Andante reveals a gift for lush lyricism combined with shimmering intensity. A jaunty Scherzo precedes a finale, imbued with colourful woodwind passages and ear-catching melodies.

The mood of optimism is carried through into the Symphony No 2 in A major, Op 12 penned three years later. The opener is fresh and invigorating and you won’t fail to be uplifted by the music. Once again, Maliszewski employs colorful instrumentation and deft orchestration. The third movement, marked Scherzo - Allegro vivo continues in festive vein. The fourth movement is joyous, further elevating the spirits and culminating in a triumphant ending. Similar sanguine sentiments are shared in the Joyful Overture, Op 11, dedicated to Glazunov at the end of his studies at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory in 1902.

Cast in the key of C minor, the Third Symphony, Op 14 dates from 1907. In contrast to the previous symphonies, its first movement is invested with Slavic passion. Here and there you’ll hear it peppered with Borodin and Tchaikovsky. This is especially the case with the third movement, a theme and variations. The theme itself sounds like it could have emanated from the pen of Tchaikovsky. The variations are deftly wrought and unfold with balletic relish. The finale hearkens back to Glazunov.

Maliszewski dedicated his Symphony No 4 in D major, Op 21 ‘To the Newborn and Recovered Homeland’. The year of composition was 1923. Poland had gained independence, with Ignacy Jan Paderewski named its Prime Minister in 1919. The symphony is structured in four movements, this time with the absence of a slow movement. The composer expanded the percussion to include timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, snare drum and tam-tam. He also incorporated Polish-based themes into the mix. The second movement is particularly striking for its playful woodwinds, and the third for its exuberant clarinet line. In the final movement, the Russian waltz undergoes some delicious transformations.

Columbia Graphophone Company in Great Britain, in cooperation with the Vienna Music Association, initiated a competition in 1927 (due to the approaching anniversary of Schubert’s death) to complete the composer’s Unfinished Symphony. This later changed to the requirement of one or two movements which were to be “an apotheosis of the lyrical genius of Schubert”. Maliszewski was awarded second prize. After an animated Scherzo there's an Overture, which is a potpourri of Schubertian themes. Bajka, Op 30 and Legend, Op 31 are two late orchestral scores from around 1930, imaginatively drafted and fairly lightweight in content. Nevertheless, each exudes a personal charm and allure.

These beautifully recorded performances, set down with clarity and immediacy, should win these luscious scores many friends. Przemysław Neumann’s satisfying and committed interpretations couldn’t be bettered, and the Opole Philharmonic play their hearts out. Extensive booklet notes are in Polish, English and Russian. I’m pleased to have made acquaintance with this long-forgotten composer, and I’ll be on the lookout for more.

Stephen Greenbank

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