Chausson died in a bicycle accident, Alkan died when a bookshelf fell on him, and Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876-1909) died in an avalanche in his beloved Tatras Mountains. Given his short life, it is understandable why he did not leave a larger musical legacy. His fame rests on six symphonic poems, all of them composed after the works on this CD. The music recorded here, while youthful, certainly is not of marginal interest, however.
Karłowicz cut his teeth as a composer in Berlin, where he studied between 1895 and 1901. His models included Richard Strauss and Tchaikovsky – he had little interest in musical nationalism, at least as it related to Poland. The earliest of the three works included here is the Serenade, which was premièred at a private concert in 1897. This is an unpretentious work in four movements: March, Romance, Waltz, and Finale. Its simplicity recalls Grieg, another composer that Karłowicz admired, but his actual model was Robert Volkmann, who is even more obscure than Karłowicz in the year 2004.
Bianca da Molena is a symphonic prologue that Karłowicz fashioned in 1900 from his incidental music to a now forgotten play by Jozafat Nowiński. The playwright's tale of knighthood and idealized love is translated into music that rests somewhere in between Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. (Had Karłowicz lived longer, he might have ended up going to Hollywood and giving Erich Wolfgang Korngold some competition.)
The "Rebirth" Symphony – the only symphony that Karłowicz ever wrote – is an ambitious work for a man in his mid twenties. It is based on the composer's own program. A soul, weighed down with quotidian cares and distracted by false, fleeting successes and pleasures, struggles towards a new, rarefied life, which it finally achieves in the last movement. Superficially, the work resembles Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, but with neither the morbidity nor the melodic distinction of that symphony. At this point in his life, Karłowicz was more optimistic than he was artistically complete! In the "Rebirth" Symphony, his reach exceeded his grasp, but one is glad to know this symphony anyway. It has the pride of youth.
Gianandrea Noseda is the Principal Conductor of the BBC Philharmonic. These performances are conscientious and well-executed, but perhaps lacking the touch of fancy that seems to be needed to get this music in full flight. The recording venue was Studio 7 in the New Broadcasting House in Manchester, England.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle