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James A. Altena
Fanfare, September 2011

This is music that on first impression, or when heard in the background, is initially quite appealing in its melodic charm and harmonic warmth; however, on repeated and closer listenings some of the early bloom wears off and the seams start to show. The thematic and harmonic languages are thoroughly redolent of Tchaikovsky, but like Bruch it relies more heavily on melodic inspiration than on formal development of ideas. Musically it is rather thin in inspiration, making overuse of stock tricks such as ascending series of trills for artificial heightening of emotional effect. It’s by no means bad or trite, as it has an endearing sweetness that avoids being cloying; but, unlike Bruch’s First Concerto (or even his lesser but unjustly neglected Third Concerto and Konzertstück, two works very dear to my heart), it simply lacks the vivid spark of originality and imagination needed to gain for its creator a permanent toehold in the repertoire.

Much the same can be said for the four-movement Serenade, consisting of a March, Waltz, Romance, and Allegretto non troppo finale. In addition to Tchaikovsky, Wagner and Richard Strauss are often cited as evident influences on early Karłowicz; here one could add the names of Bruch, Dvořák, Elgar, and Grieg, all of whom penned more distinguished examples of the genre. Still, this being a work of lesser compositional pretensions, I paradoxically find it more appealing, as it ably and delightfully fulfills its intended diversionary purpose in a winning way. A few distinctly Polish elements make a fleeting appearance; in addition to some of the dance-like thematic motifs, a distinctively harmonized downward scale of a somewhat schmaltzy character is played in passing by the violins in the first and third movements.

Whatever one’s opinion of the works themselves, no one who enjoys this repertoire need have any hesitation about acquiring this CD, the third by this same conductor and orchestra devoted to Karłowicz. The two pieces are played with all the affection and idiomatic feeling of those for whom they are musical mother’s milk, and the concerto is fortunate to find such a sterling exponent as Ilya Kaler, who lavishes on it all his wonted gleaming, honeyed tone and impeccable technique and interpretive taste. The recorded sound is appropriately rich and warm, with a dollop of resonance. Finally, given that this CD is only half the price of competing performances, it is now an easy first choice for anyone seeking to acquire either work. Recommended to lovers of the lesser late-Romantic repertoire for its very real and enjoyable, if limited, charms.

Donald R Vroon
American Record Guide, July 2011

This is the seventh recording of the violin concerto…It’s a beautiful piece and deserves the attention. Comparisons don’t favor this new one. But I really like this concerto, and I assure you it’s worth having.

Edward Greenfield
Gramophone, April 2011

The attractive music of a Polish composer at last being given his due

It is good that the Polish composer Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876–1909) is being brought out of the shadows, not least thanks to the beautiful Violin Concerto superbly recorded on this Naxos issue with prize-winning Russian violinist Ilya Kaler, ideally accompanied by the excellent Polish orchestra often used by Naxos, under its conductor Antoni Wit.

In the Violin Concerto, after a commanding horn-call, the soloist has a brief cadenza before the main Allegro exposition begins, with the strong first subject leading to a charming second subject, tender and beautiful. Another brief fanfare leads to a development section, slow at first, leading to another cadenza, and a recapitulation of the main themes, rounded off by an exciting coda. At almost 13 minutes, it makes a satisfying opening. The central Andante opens with a tender melody for the violin, repeated an octave higher. Though the violin seems to have been recorded in a different acoustic from the orchestra, placed forward, the result is hardly distracting, and Ilya Kaler’s trills towards the end are most impressive in their precision. The Rondo finale brings another fanfare and a main theme in galloping compound time, contrasted with a warm, square theme which involves formidable double-stopping for the soloist.

The Serenade, Op 2, written early in the composer’s career, makes an attractive coupling, starting with a lyrical March. The Romance slow movement leads to a Waltz in place of a scherzo, and on to an Allegretto finale with a jaunty main theme and two more lyrical themes for contrast. Altogether an attractive work, which deserves to be far better known. Again, Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic are ideal interpreters. At Naxos’s super-budget price it is an outstanding issue, readily competing with more expensive versions of the Violin Concerto., March 2011

The violin concerto by the short-lived Polish composer Mieczyslaw Karłowicz (1876–1909) is another that shows distinct traces of Bruch’s influence, although it is in three distinct movements (which are, however, joined to each other). Dating to 1902, this concerto too shows strong Tchaikovskian influence in its overall sound, although its melodies and formal design have enough originality to give it the composer’s personal stamp. Ilya Kaler handles it with considerable sensitivity and skill, and Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic provide very fine if not especially distinctive accompaniment. The orchestra also does a good job with Karłowicz’ first orchestral work, a Serenade dating to 1897 that is actually less influenced by the popular contemporary serenades of Tchaikovsky, Dvořák and Josef Suk than might be expected. Karłowicz’ work includes a March, Romance, Waltz and Finale, all of them expressive and well harmonized, with typical Romantic-era yearning in the second movement and a pleasantly humorous interchange between upper and lower strings in the third. A slight work, it is nevertheless quite an attractive one; and, like the concerto, makes a listener wonder how Karłowicz might have developed as a composer had he not died in an avalanche while skiing.

Terry Robbins
The WholeNote, March 2011

You can add Polish composer Mieczyslaw Karlowicz to your list of “strange composer deaths”—he was killed by an avalanche while skiing in the Tatra Mountains in 1909, aged only 32. His Violin Concerto in A Major, Op.8, a three-movement work that features an unusual opening cadenza, receives an outstanding performance from Ilya Kaler and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under Antoni Wit. Karlowicz’s first orchestral work, the Serenade Op.2, is somewhat reminiscent of Dvořák and Grieg, and has a particularly lovely slow movement. It’s obvious that a hugely promising talent was lost here.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2011

An avalanche in the Tatra Mountains in 1909 took from the musical world Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, one of the shining stars on the firmament of emerging composers. Born into a wealthy Polish family in 1876, he was skiing when the accident took place, yet even at that young age he left behind sufficient music to claim a place in musical posterity. Originally trained as a violinist, he had composed his Violin Concerto at the age of twenty-six, a score in three movements, of modest length, but offering the soloist a display of technical brilliance. It does not have the big dramatic opening that would have been expected at the time, but it is of youthful vivacity, the movement’s romantic core having the feel of Rachmaninov. It leads directly into the central slow movement, in which I could picture the contents of a passionate love letter. That in turn is linked to an effervescent finale full of happiness and high-speed brilliance. At a time when we hear too much aggressive music, I hope this lovely work will one day find a place in the violin repertoire. It could hardly hope for a more persuasive performance, the Russian-born American virtuoso, Ilya Kaler, in stunning form. The Serenade came from Karlowicz’s twenty-first year and is essentially a lightweight score of infinite charm. In four movements for strings, it is full of melody that immediately remains in your memory, the imaginative scoring turning simplicity into beauty. In the Warsaw Philharmonic it enjoys one of the world’s most elegant string sections, and throughout both performances Antoni Wit moulds the music with much affection. Outstanding sound quality.

David Hurwitz, January 2011

Karłowicz’s death in 1909, at age 33, was a serious loss to Polish music. His single Violin Concerto (1902) is as beautiful a work in the romantic style as any of the period, and Ilya Kaler plays it very well. Apart from a slightly grainy tone under pressure, he masters the technical difficulties pretty much effortlessly, and closes the slow movement with an absolutely exquisite diminuendo. It’s a lovely performance, ideally accompanied by Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic, and you’ll be amazed by the melodic appeal and formal shapeliness of a work that deserves to be much, much better known.

The Serenade, for string orchestra, has four warmly tuneful movements, including an opening march and a lilting waltz, and like the concerto it deserves to be a popular concert favorite. The Warsaw Philharmonic strings really dig into the music, playing with joyful gusto in the quick movements and with real soul in the Romance. The only drawback to this release is the comparatively short playing time (51 minutes), but given the quality of the music and the fine engineering, this hardly counts. Strongly recommended.

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