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James Inverne
Gramophone, November 2011

Given how well recordings of Szymanowski tend to do in these pages, it’s a surprise that there aren’t more of them. Yet for some reason, while not rare, there’s hardly been a flood.

But this is something special, by virtue of being able to boast a Polish orchestra, chorus and conductor in Warsaw. Thus it is the composer at home, as it were. Antoni Wit too has been undersold (though not by Naxos) and is in his element.

Ken Smith
Gramophone, November 2011

Contrasting symphonic neighbours on full view in Poland

Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic…are perfectly matched to this repertory, finding a balance between the vertical spaciousness of the harmonies and the horizontal momentum that drives these pieces forward. Tenor Rafał Bartmiński (in the Third Symphony) and pianist Jan Kryzsztof Broja (in the Fourth)…each convey a comparable sense of non-virtuosity, where technique is firmly grounded in the music and never for its own sake. The visuals…have the usual mix of close-ups and long shots which…help to steer viewers’ attention to individual musicians, or the full chorus, whoever holds more musical interest at any given time.

This DVD…is an early release from International Classical Artists…May they give us many more discs like this one.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, July 2011

…Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic…give a finely graded, sensitively shaped performance. Rafał Bartmiński is an outstanding tenor with a wide range, and the chorus blends with an almost otherworldly sound, as it needs to in this kind of music. As a conductor, Wit alternates between small-scale, measured hand motions (usually supplicating upward from the floor rather than downward) and passionate side-to-side motion with outstretched arms waving, as if to push the orchestra in the direction he wants.

The Symphony No. 4, based on the folk music of Poland’s mountain dwellers or górali, is altogether different. Not only was it consciously composed to be more popular, but being based on Polish folk music it is more authentically nationalistic. It was written with Arthur Rubinstein in mind, but as composition progressed Szymanowski realized that the work was more in the nature of a sinfonia concertante than a true concerto, so he numbered it as one of his symphonies. Possibly because the piano part isn’t often that flashy, virtuosic, or in the foreground, Rubinstein was not particularly appreciative of Szymanowski’s dedication and did not perform it until several years after the composer’s death. This is an excellent piece, not only because it is based on folk music or less dependent on effects, but because the composition is more fluid and fluent, the various sections blending well into one another. Yes, there is an orchestral outburst in the first movement that resembles some of the bombast of the Symphony No. 3, but it is briefer and the thematic material fits better into the overall structure. Jan Krzysztof Broja, performing in a blue satin shirt with no tie or jacket and purple slacks, is an excellent pianist. If you just listen to him, you hear an excellently graded performance, ranging from wistful pianissimi to grandly flourished fortissimi, but if you watch him he looks like a jack-in-the-box, leaning into and back from the keyboard, literally bouncing up and down on the piano bench, head bobbing, fingers alternating from a gentle touch to 10 percussive mallets. I’m not sure if this manner is an outgrowth of his natural exuberance or, like Rubinstein’s performances of Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance, a bit of choreographed showmanship, but from a musical standpoint there is nothing to criticize.

I find it ironic that, while ICA’s issues of video performances conducted by Munch and Kempe have excellent and extensive notes on the conductors, this DVD has not one word about Wit, Bartmiński, or Broja. You’d think they didn’t exist or at least were of no importance in comparison to the works. Wit, born in 1944, studied conducting under Henryk Czyz and composition under Penderecki before going on to further studies with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Bartmiński, born in 1977, studied voice in Katowice before participating in master classes led by Richard Karczykowski, Helena Łazarska, and Christian Elsner. Broja, born in Warsaw in 1972, studied in Frankfurt, Hanover, and Warsaw, making a particular impression with a 1999 recital in Vilnius and then at the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. He has recorded the Szymanowski Fourth Symphony (with Wit conducting) for Naxos.

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, April 2011

The classical DVD is coming of age. Next thing you know we will have Bax symphonies in high definition…or even Havergal Brian’s Gothic!

Here are Szymanowski’s two mature symphonies from experienced elder statesman of the podium, Antoni Wit. For years these two works were the only Szymanowski symphonies you could hear. Dorati did record the Second in the 1970s but until then, apart perhaps from the odd obscure Polski-Nagrania LP, it was only numbers 2 and 3 that we encountered.

The Warsaw Philharmonic Hall is a real beauty and this aspect is intensified by the sky-aquamarine lighting that adds an even tincture of firmament blue to the pillars and the organ-pipes behind the orchestra. I viewed this DVD after reviewing ICA’s Elgar 2 Solti DVD. The transformation of video and audio is remarkable. It has been superbly filmed by Polish TV. I listened in LPCM stereo which conveys a sense of the grand size of the hall.

In the Third Symphony Wit establishes the elusive Szymanowskian spell immediately. He then holds it in a sweetly brooding thrall. The choral voices are not too assertive; they merge and melt into and out of the diaphanous orchestral fabric. The sweet-toned solo violin of Leader Ewa Marczyk radiates a haze of heat. There is a wealth of close-ups for example on the two harps yet sufficient space is permitted for the broader stage-span as well. The orchestra must know this work inside out and this shows in their confidence with the sighing and smoothly instinctive sense of progress and weighting. The balance of orchestra and voices reflects equals and firsts and achieves a lovely spatial sense. Wit for all his eminence communicates a full measure of rapturous vigour and at 6:55 a real ecstatic-orgasmic climax is reached. However the finer filigree is just as well treated—listen at 8:20 to the glint of the harp. The iridescent haze recalls the sumptuous delights of Beckford’s Vathek—a work which might well have appealed to Szymanowski as it certainly did to his longer-lived Portuguese contemporary Luis de Freitas Branco who wrote an impressionistic tone poem on the subject in 1913. The young baritone Rafal Bartminski is a sympathetic singer and makes his exalted effect while the eddying tendrils of the orchestra sweep around him, glancing and embracing.

There are no subtitles and no printed words in the booklet.

The Fourth Symphony is part symphony and part piano concerto—Sinfonia Concertante. The powerfully built young Broja strides onto the stage sporting an unnaturally shiny blue-grey shirt. Polish chivalry extends to his kissing the hand of the Ewa Marczyk, the orchestra leader, before he launches the sing-song melody that overarches the work. His sound is crystalline yet not unduly pebbly or harsh. This is a romantic take on a work sometimes projected as modernistic. In fact this approach is a degree less exotic-ecstatic than the Third Symphony but the lyrical strain remains strong. The cameras cut around the orchestra and soloist and conductor from many angles. It’s not too busy to be distracting and interest is held throughout.

The first movement boils to an exciting and heated end. The middle movement with its otherworldly textures provides opportunities embraced by Broja as from the hushed quiet the piano emerges in a fine tracery. The lambent flute rises in assertive primacy. The spell is well sustained and the flute reminisces with the piano on the theme of the first movement. Broja and Wit’s orchestra observe the delicate yet steely differentiations. There’s real attention to rhythmic shaping and dynamic topography. The finale rises to Petrushkan vehemence.

It would be great to hear these artists recorded in this hall in the same composer’s Stabat Mater and Harnasie perhaps with the early and exhilaratingly Straussian Concert Overture thrown in to make a longer playing time than the present disc. I hope that this happens.

The helpful insert notes are by Piotr Maculewicz.

Two great works of Szymanowski’s high maturity; one exotic in the manner of King Roger; the other more in touch with Polish folk voices.

Robert Benson, March 2011

Here we have two splendid—perhaps definitive—performances of two of Karol Szymanowski’s greatest works, the Symphony No. 3 and Symphony No. 4, neither of which actually are “symphonies.” No. 3, called by the composer “The Song of the Night,” is a mystic 25-minute work for chorus, orchestra and a solo violin with a brief part for a tenor who sings poems by Rumi about the soul’s nocturnal colloquy with God. The mystery of the universe and the supernatural is conveyed with shimmering orchestral textures. Szymanowski’s orchestration is sumptuous and every bit of it is captured in this superb live performance from Warsaw. Symphony No. 4 is usually called Symphonia Concertante because of the elaborate part for solo piano. Arthur Rubinstein seemed fascinated by it, but it never became part of his regular repertory—although he did record it in 1952 with Wallenstein and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Young pianist Jan Krzystof Broja, after making a rather startling appearance on stage wearing a blue silk jacket, gives a stunning performance of this challenging music. Camera work is exemplary, with some fine shots from above the keyboard. Audio is rich and satisfying. A commendable issue in every way.

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