Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Stephen Francis Vasta
Positive Feedback Online, September 2017

From the very start of the B-flat Symphony, where the clear, searching violin solo is joined by the other instruments in a clean, unified attack, Wit shapes the musical line with firmness and purpose. He underlines influences that haven’t been clear elsewhere: of late Debussy, later in that same movement; of Ravel’s Daphnis in the wordless chorus and balletic undulations of the Third’s Allegretto tranquillo; and of Scriabin in the nervously flickering, segmented motifs everywhere. He also brings the music a welcome measure of expressive flexibility, as in the Second’s gavotte episode. © 2017 Positive Feedback Online Read complete review

Jean-Yves Duperron
Classical Music Sentinel, October 2009

Szymanowski was a Polish composer who lived from 1882 to 1937, that very fertile period in music when influences were transmitted from one to another, to the benefit and enrichment of all. The young Szymanowski was very strongly influenced by Chopin’s piano music, but as he matured, was drawn more and more into the sound worlds of Richard Strauss, Scriabin and Reger.

The Symphony No. 2, written in 1910, could very well be mistaken for a work by Richard Strauss. In fact, the opening movement is very much like Strauss in its orchestration and harmonic orientations, and it’s use of expansive thematic material and engaging, forward looking sense of momentum. The middle section which follows is built on a theme and a set of 6 ever-evolving variations, all of it leading to a bracing finale that finely caps the whole work with a muscular ending.

Composed only 5 years later, Symphony No. 3 presents a very different Szymanowski. One that is now much more confident of his own style and technique. It is based on a poem of a great medieval Persian mystic, and evokes the mysteries of a starlit Persian night. It is rich with Scriabin influenced mysticism in its tonal colours, harmonic development, leading to oceans of sound with massive multi-layered waves that bathe everything in glorious sound (6:40 into the final movement is a great example). All of this expertly scored with perfect balance between all the forces involved, to create exotic and luxurious colours and sound textures blending into a stunning sound universe.

The Naxos recording again is first rate, more than adequate in capturing all of this glorious noise and laying it out in a well balanced, three dimensional soundscape. The conductor, Antoni Wit, delivers a captivating and commited reading of these difficult works.

Kevin Sutton
MusicWeb International, September 2008

The Second Symphony is cast in three sections. The first movement is lengthy and rhapsodic. Opening with a yearning violin solo ably played by Ewa Marczyk. This is music that is packed with contrasts: at times lush and romantic, at others packed with stinging dissonance. Harmonically it is reminiscent of Mahler, but with a more compact and to the point formal structure. The second movement is a clever theme and variations and the final movement is a complex fugue. The Warsaw Philharmonic acquits itself well in this music with some outstanding playing from the horn section. Antoni Wit leads a well paced performance, coaxing a warm and rich tone from his string section.

The Third Symphony again relies on a sophisticated violin solo, but Szymanowski also adds a full chorus and a tenor soloist to set a thirteenth century song in praise of the night. The large orchestral forces and the wall of sound coming from the chorus remind us a bit of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder. Szymanowski ventures further afield harmonically in this work than in the earlier symphony, with more reliance on biting dissonances. The weak link here is tenor Ryszard Minkiewicz, whose voice possesses all the necessary heft in the loud passages, but lacks in subtlety when he is required to sing softly. There are moments when we are left wondering if he will be able to sustain the high soft notes without cracking. The Warsaw Philharmonic Chorus is a fine ensemble, with a warm blended tone that does not short out in the loudest passages.

Of the two symphonies, I found the earlier work to be the most satisfying. As often seems to happen when voices are added to compositions called "symphonies," the structural integrity of the music tends to weaken and we are left with a somewhat rambling soundscape. This seems to happen in the latter work. Nonetheless, this is a recommendable recording, especially for the virtuosity of the Warsaw Philharmonic as displayed in the Symphony No. 2.

Adrian Corleonis
Fanfare, September 2008

Noted when Wit's tilt at Szymanowski's violin concertos, with Ilya Kaler, appeared (Naxos 8.557981), his slant is the composer's sheer sensuousness—here, dwelling deliciously over the Second Symphony's heaving and swelling, and bringing a crimson flush to the empurpled raptures of Song of the Night. If the former is occasionally lurid, its trajectory nearly submerged in a sea of harmony, while the latter flirts with garish bombast, those flamboyant excesses are native to the score. …Naxos's spacious aural perspective is wallopingly fronted with string buzz and hum, but leaves Song of the Night's all-important melismatic woodwind colloquies in middling recess—atmospheric perhaps, but a distant blur…Wit's climactic moments are cataclysmically brutal…Wit's way with these works affords lingering charms, while the sound in which they're captured, if not optimum, is more than serviceable. …Recommended, anyway.

David Hurwitz, June 2008

The Song of the Night (a.k.a. Symphony No. 3) has many of the same qualities that made Wit’s Mahler Eighth so special: terrific choral singing, a bigness of conception that never precludes physical excitement, and very natural balances between vocal and instrumental forces.

The large acoustic that so benefits the Third Symphony also blunts the edge of this purely instrumental piece…very enjoyable (and very inexpensive) disc should satisfy any fan of this splendid but still underrated composer.

Edward Greenfield
Gramophone, May 2008

Gramophone Editor's Choice

Antoni Wit conducts his Warsaw forces in exceptionally warm and idiomatic performances of these two exotic symphonies, vividly recorded. They make an important addition to the Naxos catalogue. The more immediately attractive is No 3, subtitled Song of the Night, with its tenor solo and chorus adding to its impact. The poem which the tenor sings has the refrain "Do not sleep friend" and builds to the most powerful climax with Szymanowski's love of exotic orchestral colours exploited to the full. The thrust and passion of Wit's performance, splendidly supported by the clear-voiced tenor and the chorus, is impossible to resist, and leads to a second movement with hints of birdsong followed by a slow finale, a deep meditation.

The performance of No 2 in two movements, an opening Allegro followed by an extended set of variations, is equally persuasive. Again, the first movement is passionate and thrustful and the variations bring some fascinating contrasts, ending with a powerful fugue. Antoni Wit's performance could not be more idiomatic, with singers and players totally inside the music. An outstanding issue.

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, May 2008

Wit keeps the musicians on course…All credit to the engineers for keeping it all in focus and sustaining that huge orchestral weight.

The chorus sings with passion and unanimity, cutting through the music’s more diffuse textures. They are a fine collection of singers, having played a key part in the success of the Naxos Mahler 8. Wit held that great structure together admirably and he does the same here, building up to that blazing peroration that begins at 6:35. This is incredibly sensuous music, played with panache. …The tenor Ryszard Minkiewicz sounds suitably transported in ‘So quiet, others sleep... / I and God alone in the night’ and is even audible above the outburst at 1:30. What follows is altogether more diaphanous, a sense of barely suppressed ecstasy that grows to a light-drenched climax before fading to a serene close. There is plenty of sinew and muscle in this symphony and no excess fat, which translates into a much more robust, individual and engaging work.

Szymanowski fans need not hesitate, if only to savour this captivating ‘Song of the Night’. …this new Naxos disc is very welcome indeed. Another triumph for Maestro Wit and his busy Warsaw band.

Julian Haylock
Classic FM, May 2008

The Polish Scriabin goes into overdrive in these deliriously sensual scores, climaxing in the 'Song of the night's' hedonistically pulsating finale.

Gramophone, April 2008

…Antoni Wit…shows here once again he has a exceptional talent for inhabiting a composer’s sound world. These are performances of great affection and, typically for Wit, sound totally idiomatic.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2008

Composed while Szymanowski was much under the influence of Richard Strauss and Max Reger, the Second Symphony from 1910 was one of the erotic utterances in the last gasp of the Romantic era. By that time he was venturing further south to Italy from his native Poland, the quiet but steamy passion of a warm night characterising the opening movement. Shafts of light eventually break through in the playful scherzo, but it proves a passing moment before we return to the sensuality that transports us through to a feast of subtle shimmering colours in the final fugue. Only six years separated this from the Third Symphony, but he was already moving into the new sounds of the 20th century, Debussy being his major source of inspiration. Here he added an extra dimension to his range of colours by introducing a solo tenor voice and a sparingly used chorus to the outer movements.They were the words of the mystical that generate musical pictures of desire. At times the moods are turbulent in their power or drift into a dream world of erotic fantasy. Neither work is easy to interpret as they can too quickly become maudlin. On disc they have fared well, Naxos already having attractive Polish performances in the catalogue. In the Warsaw Philharmonic we have an ensemble that is in a different league to the competition, the sheer beauty of Ewa Marczyk’s solo violin in the opening bars of the Second Symphony, setting the scene for the fabulous quality of the orchestra. It would be no exaggeration to say that the strings more than rival the Berlin and Vienna orchestras, the rounded brass and sinuous woodwind ideal for both works. Ryszard Minkiewicz is the admirable tenor with the orchestra’s choir much in tune with the composer. Antoni Wit is the conductor, and you feel that he loves every bar, yet can distance himself so as to fashion the works without flagging-up his intervention. The recording matches the rich and rounded tone quality to produce a disc of rare distinction.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group