GRZEGORZ FITELBERG (1879 - 1953)
Polish by adoption, although born in Latvia, Fitelberg studied at the Warsaw Conservatory between 1891 and 1896, specialising in composition and violin, skills united in his Violin Sonata No. 1, winner of the Paderewski Prize in 1898. Having played the violin in the Wielki Theatre and Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestras, Fitelbeg made his debut as a conductor during the 1904–1905 season and in 1905, together with others including Szymanowski, he founded the Young Poland group of composers and the Young Polish Composers’ Publishing Company: indeed throughout his life he was to be a keen supporter of Polish composers.
He conducted the first concert associated with the Young Poland group and its members in Warsaw during 1906 and two years later was appointed chief conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. During the 1912–1913 season he conducted at the Vienna Court Opera and spent the years of World War I in Russia, conducting symphony concerts as well as ballet and opera performances in St Petersburg and Moscow. After the war Fitelberg moved to Paris in 1921 to conduct Digahilev’s Ballets Russes, with whom he stayed for three years during which he conducted the première of Stravinsky’s Mavra. From 1923 to 1934 he once more served as chief conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra before forming the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, which he led between 1934 and 1939. Among the first performances which he conducted in Warsaw at this time was that of Szymanowski’s Stabat mater in 1929.
Fitelberg left Europe in 1940, travelling first to South America before settling in the United States where he stayed between 1942 and 1945. During the 1945–1946 season in London he conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra, making several notable recordings with the orchestra for Decca. These included Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 3 ‘Polish’, and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Eileen Joyce as soloist, as well as the Polovtsian Dances from Borodin’s opera Prince Igor, a Suite from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tsar Saltan, and the prelude to Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. In 1947 he returned to Poland to take up once again the post of chief conductor of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, now based in the industrial city of Katowice.
Although Fitelberg’s discography is small it is highly representative, and includes operatic overtures by Moniuszko, the Violin Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 2 of Szymanowski, and Lutosławski’s Silesian Triptych. The Danish company Danacord has also issued a recording of Fitelberg conducting the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in a performance of Szymanowski’s Symphony No. 4, Symphonie Concertante, with the composer himself taking the important piano part.