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See latest reviews of other albums..., November 2016

Alternating between fervent affirmation and brooding melancholy, these impressive late-romantic works are notable for their colourful and imaginative orchestration and fresh and original harmony. Kar┼éowicz’s music justifiably occupies a prime place in the history of Polish music between Chopin and Szymanowski. © 2016 Read complete review

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, November 2008

First off, the performances are uniformly excellent. Antoni Wit has proven himself, in a rather humble and non-spotlight seeking manner, to be one of the finest and most consistent conductors in the world (his recent Alpine Symphony is one of the best [8.557811] ).  If this proves to be a series in the now-common Naxos-style, it will be an important one, despite the lack of surround sound, which would benefit this music tremendously. However, lest I start to sound like a rave, I must report that not all of the music here is of equal worth and quality. Stanislaw and Anna Oswiecimowie is the tale of an incestuous brother and sister from a 17th century legend, whereas they actually apply to the Pope for permission to get married (and it is granted!) but by the time Stanislaw returns home, Anna is dead. Strange. But very effective, and it would become one of Karlowicz’s most popular pieces.

His Lithuanian Rhapsody is rhapsodic, but also somber and introverted, with only a brief spurt of dance-like histrionics appearing at the end. Episode at a Masquerade is for me a bit of a dog. Episode is right, for I found the work very diffuse and hard to follow musically, though it is quite tonal and even less hyper-romantic than the other works here.

The sound is really fine with a rich sense of depth and breadth that serves Wit and forces well. This is a fine start to what will be an important series, even though the music might prove a little uneven.

Ian Lace
MUSO, November 2008

Mieczysław Karłowicz ranks among the most important Polish composers and his music is at last beginning to be covered by the record companies. Chandos have recorded all three of the symphonic poems covered on this first Naxos CD: Stanislaw and Anna Oświecimowie and Lithuanian Rhapsody (with Eternal Songs) on CHAN 9986 (2001) and Episode at a Masquerade (with Returning Waves and A Sorrowful Tale) on CHAN 10298 (2005). A third 2003 Chandos release on CHAN 10171 has Karłowicz’s Bianca da Molina, Serenade for Strings and his ‘Rebirth’ Symphony

Stanislaw and Anna Oświecimowie, written in 1906, was Karłowicz’s, fourth and most successful symphonic poem, praised by critics and public. To modern ears it sounds curiously reminiscent of a Korngold or Steiner film score. In fact it is very cinematic with noble, portentous material, sweeping romantic lyricism and dark dramatic, even seething, sinister episodes. It employs a large orchestra and Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic clearly relish its overt romanticism. They are every bit as forceful and romantic as Tortelier and the BBC Philharmonic on the Chandos CD. Stanislaw and Anna Oświecimowie was inspired by a painting by Stanislaw Bergmann depicting a scene from a 17th century tragic legend concerning the incestuous love between the two siblings of the music’s title—Stanislaw eventually going to Rome to seek the Pope’s blessing on their union, only to find his sister dead on his return home. 

The Lithuanian Rhapsody begins equally gloomily. Karłowicz said of it: “I tried to pour into it all the sadness and eternal chains of this people whose songs had filled my childhood”. Melancholic nostalgia and a sense of regret permeate the work. The music climbs slowly out of the darkness, only briefly emerging from the shadows, and working towards an impassioned climax. Folk/rustic music is evident. Influences are difficult to define—Grieg seems the most obvious with perhaps something of Dvořák and Sibelius. Wit delivers a most affecting reading. 

Episode at a Masquerade was Karłowicz’s final symphonic poem. He had worked on it from October 1908 until his death the following February—he died it seems, in an avalanche while skiing in the Tatra mountains—leaving an autograph that apparently extended for 473 bars. The work was completed by Fitelberg and Masquerade was first performed in Warsaw in February 1914. It begins brilliantly with, if I can clumsily put it this way, a sonic fountain of joyful playfulness, before poignant violins momentarily slow the hedonistic pace. Together with material that might suggest gales and snowy blizzards, and passages of intense yearning, all this and more, and you have the elements of this inflated and kaleidoscopic but immensely enjoyable Late-Romantic symphonic poem. I prefer by a small margin this reading to Gianandrea Noseda’s Chandos recording. 

For lovers of inflated Late-Romanticism, this is treasure trove.

Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, November 2008

The work was completed by Fitelberg and…Masquerade…begins brilliantly with, if I can clumsily put it this way, a sonic fountain of joyful playfulness, before poignant violins momentarily slow the hedonistic pace. Together with material that might suggest gales and snowy blizzards, and passages of intense yearning, all this and more, and you have the elements of this inflated and kaleidoscopic but immensely enjoyable Late-Romantic symphonic poem…

For lovers of inflated Late-Romanticism, this is treasure trove.

Rob Maynard
MusicWeb International, October 2008

This new disc offers us three of the six symphonic poems that many critics consider to be the composer’s greatest achievement…Polish-born Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic have, of course, recorded for Naxos before. My colleague Tony Haywood chose their recording of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand as one of his MusicWeb International discs of the year in 2006 and, while Karłowicz’s symphonic poems may not require such gargantuan resources, the performances here are quite equally assured…Wit’s long experience in presenting Polish music to the wider world means that he gives us an idiomatic performance that sounds both completely natural to him and utterly authoritative.

I find the sound on the Naxos disc preferable to the rather reverberant ambiance inhabited by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra on the Chandos discs. The Polish players, in contrast, have been recorded at a slightly higher level and, set as they are within a dryer acoustic, have a far more immediate and realistic impact.

Richard Whitehouse has penned some useful notes for the CD booklet. They will certainly prove a good introduction to the many inquisitive purchasers who will, I hope, be attracted at this bargain price to explore Mieczysław Karłowicz’s music.

David Hurwitz, October 2008

Mieczyslaw Karlowicz’s six symphonic poems feature gobs of Straussian sonority in loosely organized forms, and while Antoni Wit’s performances are actually a touch slower than the competition on Chandos, the playing of the Warsaw Philharmonic is so much more atmospheric, richly textured, and knowing than that of the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda that the music is transformed.

Read full review at ClassicsToday

David Fanning
Gramophone, October 2008

Romantic episodes from Poland that make a good introduction to the music…Antoni Wit takes the Lithuanian Rhapsody and Episode at a Masquerade a little more broadly than his counterparts on Chandos, and there is certainly an attractive raw energy in the Polish playing.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2008

Born into a wealthy Polish family in 1876, Mieczyslaw Karlowicz was seemingly killed when struck by an avalanche while skiing in the Tatra Mountains. He was just thirty-five at the time and was on the brink of joining with Szymanowski as the two leading Polish composers of the early 20th century. Originally trained as a violinist, he soon turned his attention to composition, and by his death had written sufficient music to stake a place among the outstanding late-Romantics. As testimony to that fact we have six massive symphonic poems that I could best describe as a Polish version of Richard Strauss. Karlowicz’s was a gifted orchestrator who used every instrument with skill. The third, fourth and last works are included in this first release, the first two having a defined programme. Stanislaw and Anna Oswiecimowie relates the 17th century love of a brother and sister, and Stanislaw’s journey to Rome where he persuaded the Pope to grant his blessing to their marriage, only to find his sister dead on his return. Big, passionate music, with the outgoing grief in the work’s final pages fashioning a deeply moving score. Written one year earlier in 1906, the composer never heard the Lithuanian Rhapsody, a highly charged work based on songs heard when visiting the family estate in Lithuania. There is nostalgia for his childhood days, but also many scenes of love, grief and sadness that were reflected in the folk tunes. The integrity and authorisation to use the sixth, Episode at a Masquerade, is more questionable, as it was left unfinished on his death. Grzegorz Fitelberg completed the score, but as the composer’s manuscript was lost in the Second World War, it is unclear as to the extent of Fitelberg’s additions. Even the name of the piece was added later, as it was believed that the scenario used was the encounter of two estranged lovers, their inability to regenerate that love lost in the activity of the Masquerade. The score that Fitelberg presented was as long as many 20th century symphonies, but does not always offer Karlowicz’s personal sound we experience elsewhere. Listening to this impressive and desirable release, I have to reiterate that the famed Berlin and Vienna orchestras may have to pay due deference to their counterparts in the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. The warmth and strength of the strings is matched by the weight of the brass and limpid quality of woodwind. Under Antoni Wit they are a force to be reckoned with, and Karlowicz could surely never have wished for finer performances. Sound quality is first class.

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