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WITOLD ROWICKI

Witold Rowicki studied the violin as his principal subject and also composition at the Kraków Conservatory, from which he graduated in 1938. He continued to study composition with Rudolph Hindemith, the brother of the composer, and earned his living as a string player with the Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra as well as in chamber groups and as a teacher at the Conservatory, although he had made his debut as a conductor as early as 1933; during World War II he further studied musical history and composition. His career as a conductor began in 1945: initially he re-established the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, based in Katowice, working alongside Grzegorz Fitelberg, and in 1950 he was appointed chief conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra.

Despite the orchestra lacking its own concert hall and working under difficult conditions, it improved rapidly under Rowicki’s leadership, undertaking its first international tour, to Berlin, in 1951. At the beginning of 1955 the new Philharmonic Concert Hall was opened in Warsaw and the orchestra was renamed as the National Philharmonic of Poland, reflecting its status as the leading institution of its kind in the country, although it continued to be called the Warsaw Philharmonic abroad. Rowicki then resigned as chief conductor of this orchestra, and between 1957 and 1959 was chief conductor of the Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra, although he was reappointed as chief conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic in 1958 and retained this position until 1977, touring extensively with the orchestra. In addition he served as chief conductor of the Wielki Theatre in Warsaw, Poland’s leading opera house, from 1965 to 1970. Following his departure from the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra his last permanent post was as chief conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, from 1983 to 1985.

Rowicki was a highly disciplined musician, whose interpretations were notable for their sustained intensity. This was achieved through the use of frequently fast tempi, very firm rhythmic foundations and great drive, as well as extremely clean and technically assured orchestral playing. These characteristics were to the fore in his accounts of the symphonies of Brahms and Dvořák, complete cycles of which he recorded. The Dvořák cycle was recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, with whom he often worked. Himself an active composer, Rowicki was a staunch supporter of contemporary Polish composers. He was the dedicatee of Lutosławski’s 1954 Concerto for Orchestra, and he conducted the first performance of the same composer’s Jeux vénitiens in 1961. In addition he recorded many of the orchestral works of Szymanowski, as well as the music of numerous less well-known Polish composers of the twentieth century. He was also a notable accompanist on disc, working with artists such as the pianists Samson François, Ingrid Haebler, Witold Malcuzyński and Sviatoslav Richter, and the distinguished Polish violinist Wanda Wilkomirska.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).


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