I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for knowing Pan Twardowski, a ballet by Ludomir Róóycki (1884-1953), a contemporary of Szymanowski, but here's a Polish composer I knew absolutely nothing about until this CD caught my eye. Tadeusz Szeligowski was born in 1896 in the city of Lwów (or Lvov), which at that time was under the control of Austria. Although he received a doctorate in law, he also had a well-rounded musical education in Lwów, Kraków, and (later) in Paris with Nadia Boulanger and Paul Dukas. Paris between the two world wars had a decisive effect on him, and when he returned to Poland in 1931, he gave up law in order to devote himself entirely to music – teaching, composing, and conducting. He was among the original founders of the Poznań Philharmonic, and served as its first music director between 1947 and 1949. Between 1950 and his death in 1963, he was a leading musical figure in Poznań, teaching at that city's conservatory and organizing major musical events.
This composer is not entirely new to CD – there's flute sonata out there, and a wind quintet – but all five of the works on this new Naxos CD are receiving their first commercial recordings here. The Comedy Overture (1952), which starts things off, isn't literally a curtain-raiser. It's just a bright and unpretentious introduction to the composer. The annotations (co-authored by conductor Smolij) suggest a resemblance between this work and Kabalevsky's Colas Breugnon overture, and I think that's right on the money. Next come Four Polish Dances (1954), and Szeligowski dresses them up so grandly that their folk origins are almost hidden. (Indeed, the outer portions of the "Korowód" sound like what Elgar might have written on an Eastern European vacation.) The Piano Concerto (1941) is in a diverting neoclassical style that doesn't give much of a hint, except for the lightly melancholy second movement – that World War Two was raging through and around Poland as it was composed. Here, hints of Elgar have been replaced with hints of Poulenc, perhaps as a souvenir of Szeligowski's years in Paris. The extended Nocturne (1947) is lushly orchestrated, and exhales an atmosphere of magic and veiled eroticism. Finally, the Concerto for Orchestra (1930), composed while Szeligowski was in Paris, is an assured, attractive work, even if it doesn't approach later works in this genre by Bartók or Szeligowski's younger countryman Lutos»awski. It is more modern in style than the other works on this CD, but still very digestible.
The Poznań Philharmonic is a top-notch ensemble, and they do their founder proud with the performances on this CD. Smolij, an up-and-coming conductor, makes an excellent case for this music. Czapiewski sparkles in the concerto, and gives substance to its middle movement.
Once again, Naxos is to be praised for making virtually unknown music available to the masses in excellent performances, and at an almost give-away price.
Copyright © 2008, Raymond Tuttle