koczalski symphonic acte prealable

Raul Koczalski (1885-1948)
Symphonic Works 1
Von der Liebe – Sieben Gedichte von Rainer Maria Rilke Op. 99
Symphnische Legende vom Könige Boleslaus dem Kühnen und Bischof Stanislaus dem Heiligen (Im Jahre 1079) für Orchester Op. 53 (1894)
Évocations – Symphonie fantastique in E major Op. 73 (c. 1916)
Katarzyna Dondalska (soprano)
Orkiestra Symfoniczna Filharmonii Dolnośląskiej/Szymon Makowski (Von der Liebe)
Orkiestra Symfoniczna im. Filharmonii Lubelskiej Henryka Wieniawskiego/Wojciech Rodek
rec. 2021/22, Filharmonii Dolnośląskiej; Filharmonii Lubelskiej Henryka Wieniawskiego, Poland
Texts and translations included
Acte Préalable AP0505 [78]

This is at least the ninth disc that Acte Préalable has devoted to pianist-composer Raul Koczalski. Whether it’s concertos or chamber works, the series thus far has been uneven as to accomplishment but certainly revealing of Koczalski’s ambition. He was no mere Sunday painter but this latest disc, the first volume devoted to his symphonic works, leaves a very mixed impression.

The first work is actually a song cycle, Von der Liebe, which sets seven Rilke poems. The composition is undated in the notes, which can be significant given that one of the other works in the disc, his Op.53, was written when he was only nine years old. Koczalski was a remarkably advanced specimen, first appearing in public playing the piano at the age of three, so this precocity is a recurrent feature of his art. The seven Rilke songs come from Lieben, a cycle of 22 songs published in 1896. Koczalski set them for baritone and here they have been transposed for the soprano Katarzyna Dondalska. Compact in size – only one breaches three minutes in length – they are suffused in late Romanticism and are deftly orchestrated. In their opulence they may remind one of Strauss and they’re attractively varied in mood and effect. Dondalska is a highly effective if occasionally strident interpreter.

The Symphonic Legend, Op.53 is the work that was written when Koczalski was nine, in 1894. It bears an impossibly long title which I’ve truncated for ease of use. Patriotically programmatic it concerns an incident in Polish history during the reign of the promisingly named Boleslaw the Bold which relates his conquering frolics which earn the merited rebuke of Stanislaus the Holy, the consequences of which you can probably anticipate. Even if you can’t, the music is genial and full of marches, some serio-comic, others more militant, adeptly orchestrated and effective. Though the music recalls Weber and mid-century romantics it’s no less effective for all that, if somewhat flimsy. He may have been precocious, but he was not Mendelssohn.

If you’re going to evoke Berlioz in a work, as is inevitable if you title a piece Évocations – Symphonie fantastique in E major Op. 73, it had better be good. Jan Jarnicki, whose brainchild this series has been and who runs the label, identifies it as a work composed during the First World War, so I’ve tentatively ascribed the date of c.1916 to it. It’s in four parts that correspond to an opening Moderato, a scherzo, slow movement and Theme and variations finale, nicely characterised. The poetic superscriptions are by Albert Samain and Baudelaire. I have to say that to these ears it’s more easy-going than fantastique, the expected pinch of late Romanticism again adding some fibre to a pleasing diet. It’s a work that neither strives for heights nor delves to depths. It’s all rather charming and emollient. The variations with which the piece ends are tightly constructed but ultimately don’t accumulate tension.

The disc has fine booklet notes – Jarnicki’s as well as those by Dr Karol Rzepecki. The orchestras and conductors split the responsibilities as one can see in the headnote. From time to time the orchestras, though accomplished, lack some heft. Committed performances, though, can’t quite resolve the Koczalski dilemma.

Jonathan Woolf 

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