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Derek Warby
MusicWeb International, April 2009

The name of Tadeusz Szeligowski was completely new to me before receiving this CD…All five works on this CD are receiving their first recordings. The Comedy Overture of 1952, not unreasonably likened to Kabalevsky’s Colas Breugnon in the booklet notes, is a suitably attractive, if insubstantial, curtain-raiser. The Four Polish Dances date from two years later and reflect the time when many Polish composers—including Lutosławski and Panufnik—were looking to folk music for inspiration. The first-movement Korowód is a Polish round-dance in duple time with a certain archaic nobility as expressed here. The Walc lubelski is a waltz from the Lublin area of Poland and would not be completely out of place in a Prokofiev ballet. The Sielanka third movement is a carefree idyll rather than a dance, while the final Oberek—a form of mazurka—proved to be the most appealing movement for me; a somewhat rustic dance complete with folksy solo violin.

The Piano Concerto dates from 1941. It is decidedly neo-classical in style and betrays his studies in Paris. It immediately brought similar works by Poulenc, Ravel and Prokofiev to mind. The atmospheric Andante slow movement has a strangely Caucasian sound to it to my ears. I was reminded of shadows of Khachaturian while listening to it. The soloist in this recording is Bogdan Czapiewski, a past finalist in the Busoni and Montreal Piano Competitions in the mid-1970s. His biography claims an extensive discography but this seems to be the only recording of his currently available. He is certainly an able and committed advocate of this music and makes a very good case for the concerto.

The Nocturne at once betrays the influence of the years Szeligowski spent in Paris but this time in a very different way. Gone is the Poulenc-like neo-classicism. It is replaced by a very Debussian exoticism. On repeated listening to this CD, the Nocturne turned out to be my favourite piece. Finally on this disc, Szeligowski’s Concerto for Orchestra is the earliest piece here. It is also the most contemporary in the impression it makes. It is actually only the second ‘Concerto for Orchestra’ written as far as I can tell—only the Hindemith work of that name from 1925 pre-dates it. Being written in 1930, Szeligowski’s Concerto for Orchestra precedes better-known works by Kodály (1939), Bartók (1943) and his compatriot Lutosławski (1954). The Concerto is a substantial three-movement work of some twenty-four minutes. The first is by far the longest and gets under way without any ado, immediately revealing its more modern-sounding musical world, including some quite original writing at, for example, 3:51. There is an extended—almost too extended—violin solo at the end of the first movement which ingeniously melts into an effective motor-like passage at 10:28 shortly before the movement’s close. I was interested to note the ringing-on tam-tam at the end, a device Rakhmaninov later used at the end of his Symphonic Dances of 1941. I wonder if he had heard the Szeligowski piece? The second movement reminded me a little of Honegger slow movements, or the more menacing passages from some of his film scores. The very brief third movement shows some of the folk music influences which would surface again in the music of Lutosławski some twenty years later. All in all, an enjoyable work.

The Poznań Philharmonic Orchestra under its founder Mariusz Smolij is obviously a fine band of players. They prove excellent advocates for the music of Poznań’s first musical son. The Auditorium of the Adam Minkiewicz University provides a warm yet clear acoustic which is very well caught by the recording engineers.

For anyone interesting in filling the gap between Szymanowski and Lutosławski in Polish music, this CD provides a fascinating snapshot. Here is a composer who often betrays his influences more than revealing a truly original voice. However, he proves to be an excellent craftsman of agreeable and very digestible music.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, November 2007

Chalk up another great discovery to Naxos in the form of this adventurous release of orchestral music by late romantic Polish composer Tadeusz Szeligowki (1896–1963). His music shows French as well as Polish influences, which is not surprising considering he spent three years in Paris where he worked with Paul Dukas and Nadia Boulanger. The Comedy Overture (1952) is an occasional piece that’s just plain fun. It’s lyrically boisterous, colorfully orchestrated and quite Slavic sounding with ties to the lighter side of Shostakovich. The ending may even remind you of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol.

The suite of Four Polish Dances follows the time honored tradition of Eastern European composers to arrange and orchestrate the folk music of their respective countries. Szeligowski certainly proves he’s up to the task with these inventive dances derived from Polish folk sources, including the ever popular polonaise and mazurka. While the symphonic dances of Dvorak, Bartok and Kodaly immediately come to mind, it’s the Lachian Dances of Leos Janacek that seem the closest relative to what we have here.

The piano concerto (1941) is in the standard three movements and shows that Szeligowski learned his lessons well in Paris as it’s a heavy-duty, neo-classical gem that’s at times reminiscent of Kabalevsky’s efforts in this genre. There’s never a lull in the hyperactive first movement where an exhilaratingly joyful theme is contrasted to great effect with a more reflective one. In the process there are many opportunities for virtuosic displays from the soloist. The andante is mysterious and haunting in a way that probably reflects the composer’s love for the music of his fellow countryman Karol Szymanowski. The finale is another high-energy exercise with more keyboard pyrotechnics, and provides a fitting conclusion to this captivating Baltic pianistic showpiece.

The nocturne for orchestra (1947) that follows is an impressionistic watercolor that’s even more reminiscent of Szymanowski. There’s a repeated figure in the bass [track-9, beginning at 01:33] amazingly like the opening of Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird (1910). The program closes with a concerto for orchestra (1930), which oddly enough is the most modern sounding work here, although it was written long before anything else on this disc. In three movements, it predates the famous Bartok concerto by thirteen years, and was composed while Szeligowski was in Paris. There’s an enfant terrible aspect about it that brings to mind music dating from that period by another composer who was also resident in Paris, Sergei Prokofiev. In fact one of the rhythmic figurations in the strident opening is reminiscent of the clock motif that would appear some fifteen years later in Prokofiev’s Cinderella ballet. A pensive and demanding cadenza for the violin dominates the last part of the first movement. It sets the stage for the lugubrious, but emotionally powerful andante where mysterious wind-swept passages for the violins make the music sound possessed. A folk melody serves as the central idea for the finale. Here the composer gives us an ear-catching free-for-all where all the instrumental facets of the orchestra sparkle with all the colors of a sonic rainbow.

The Poznan Philharmonic Orchestra under Mariusz Smolij delivers impassioned performances of everything, and soloist Bogdan Czapiewski plays up a storm in the piano concerto. The overall recorded sound is quite good except for a few spots where there’s a bit of that Slavic stridency reminiscent of those old Melodiya recordings.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2007

Though little known outside of Poland, Tadeusz Szeligowski played an important role in the nation’s music in the mid-part of the 20th century. Born in Lvov, then part of Austria, in 1896, Szeligowski had a varied career, including a period as a lawyer. At the age of 33 the returned to music that had played such an important role in his youth. Like so many at the time he moved to Paris studying with Nadia Boulenger and Paul Dukas, and became strongly influenced by the French and Russian composers working there. He returned to Poland in 1931, and decided his life was to be in composition supported by an income from teaching, that latter input mainly coming from the Poznan Conservatory. The Second World War interrupted his plans, but in 1947 he was instrumental in forming the Poznan Philharmonic Orchestra, serving as its first music director. He was very heavily involved in the promotion of new Polish music up to his death in 1963, though as a composer he was a traditionalist, working in tonal and conventional music structures. The disc offers a sample of his compositions over the period 1930 to 1954, and you will find many influences with Prokofiev and Shostakovich ever present. Try for a start the infectious Four Polish Dances, colourfully orchestrated and oozing with memorable melodic invention. The Piano Concerto from 1941 has all those naughty harmonic twists and turns he would have enjoyed in his Paris years, while his 1930 Concerto for Orchestra does come from his student days in France. Though not set out in the same way, it predates the famous work by Bartok, and explores the various sections of the orchestra without overt virtuosity. In total a thoroughly enjoyable disc which stylistically belongs to the mainstream 1920’s. The Poznan play with the passion you would expect in world premier recordings of their founder; Bogdan Czapiewski enjoys the technical challenge of the concerto, and there are many small orchestral solos of real quality. In the early days of LP we would have described it as ’an empty swimming bath’ recording, but your ears quickly adjust, and I strongly recommend it to all who enjoy tuneful 20th century music.

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