Karlowicz poems naxos

Déjà Review: this review was first published in November 2008 and the recording is still available. Ian Lace passed away in 2021.

Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876-1909)
Symphonic Poems – Volume 1
Stanislaw and Anna Oświecimowie (1906)
Lithuanian Rhapsody (1906)
Episode at a Masquerade (1908-09)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. 2006, Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Poland
Naxos 8.570452 [71]

Mieczysław Karłowicz ranks among the most important Polish composers and his music is at last beginning to be covered by the record companies. Chandos have recorded all three of the symphonic poems covered on this first Naxos CD: Stanislaw and Anna Oświecimowie and Lithuanian Rhapsody (with Eternal Songs) on CHAN9986 (2001) andEpisode at a Masquerade (with Returning Waves and A Sorrowful Tale) on CHAN10298 (2005). A third 2003 Chandos release on CHAN10171 has Karłowicz’s Bianca da MolinaSerenade for Strings and his ‘Rebirth’ Symphony.

Stanislaw and Anna Oświecimowie, written in 1906, was Karłowicz’s, fourth and most successful symphonic poem, praised by critics and public. To modern ears it sounds curiously reminiscent of a Korngold or Steiner film score. In fact it is very cinematic with noble, portentous material, sweeping romantic lyricism and dark dramatic, even seething, sinister episodes. It employs a large orchestra and Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic clearly relish its overt romanticism. They are every bit as forceful and romantic as Tortelier and the BBC Philharmonic on the Chandos CD. Stanislaw and Anna Oświecimowie was inspired by a painting by Stanislaw Bergmann depicting a scene from a 17th century tragic legend concerning the incestuous love between the two siblings of the music’s title – Stanislaw eventually going to Rome to seek the Pope’s blessing on their union, only to find his sister dead on his return home. 

The Lithuanian Rhapsody begins equally gloomily. Karłowicz said of it: “I tried to pour into it all the sadness and eternal chains of this people whose songs had filled my childhood”. Melancholic nostalgia and a sense of regret permeate the work. The music climbs slowly out of the darkness, only briefly emerging from the shadows, and working towards an impassioned climax. Folk/rustic music is evident. Influences are difficult to define – Grieg seems the most obvious with perhaps something of Dvořàk and Sibelius. Wit delivers a most affecting reading. 

Episode at a Masquerade was Karłowicz’s final symphonic poem. He had worked on it from October 1908 until his death the following February – he died it seems, in an avalanche while skiing in the Tatra mountains – leaving an autograph that apparently extended for 473 bars. The work was completed by Fitelberg and … Masquerade was first performed in Warsaw in February 1914. It begins brilliantly with, if I can clumsily put it this way, a sonic fountain of joyful playfulness, before poignant violins momentarily slow the hedonistic pace. Together with material that might suggest gales and snowy blizzards, and passages of intense yearning, all this and more, and you have the elements of this inflated and kaleidoscopic but immensely enjoyable Late-Romantic symphonic poem. I prefer by a small margin this reading to Gianandrea Noseda’s Chandos recording. 

For lovers of inflated Late-Romanticism, this is treasure trove.

Ian Lace

Previous review: Rob Maynard (October 2008)

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