- Concerto for violin & orchestra in A major, Op. 8 - Mieczyslaw Karlowicz - Ilya Kaler - Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra - Antoni Wit
- Serenade for string orchestra in C major, Op. 2 - Mieczyslaw Karlowicz - Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra - Antoni Wit
Mieczyslaw Karlowicz: Serenade, Op. 2; Violin Concerto, Op. 8by Ilya Kaler
Of the tragic composer deaths on record, the cake for most unusual may be taken by that of Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, who was caught in an avalanche while on a ski trip in the Tatra Mountains. He was of the increasingly often performed Polish generation that came of age in the late 19th century, and he wrote several symphonic poems that were, like Richard Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra," influenced by the writings of Nietzsche. Strauss was but one influence on his music; the two works here take Tchaikovsky as a model, and it was partly these multiple derivations that caused Karlowicz to fall into obscurity after World War I. Yet he doesn't ape his models, and he's worth another listen. The youthful "Serenade, Op. 2," marries an attractive concision to a sort of fin de siècle nervousness that emerges over the course of the piece, as if the opening march can't quite put its confidence across. Sample the tripartite Waltz movement (track 3). The "Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 8," carries less of Karlowicz's distinctive personality but is an entirely assured handling of the idiom of Tchaikovsky's concerto, with some lovely melodies, all contained in a slightly smaller framework ideal for presenters or players who might want to offer a concerto as an opener. Russian-born violinist Ilya Kaler is equal to its considerable technical demands, and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under Antoni Wit adds to its strong series of performances on the Naxos label. These works are not as distinctive as the others by Karlowicz that have lately appeared, but they're certainly of interest to Polish music lovers.
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Performance CreditsIlya Kaler Primary Artist
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It is always fascinating to watch a talented young composer develop and grow--and horribly tragic when that promise is not fulfilled due to an untimely death. Such was the case with Mieczyslaw Karlowicz. Born in present day Lithuania in 1876, he studied in Berlin and Leipzig. His instrument was the violin, but his passion was for composition. With each new piece he demonstrated an increased mastery of form and musical content, culminating in a cycle of six majestic symphonic poems, splendidly recorded on Naxos 8.570295 and 8.570452. Karlowicz's music was profoundly influenced by Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss, and even Sibelius--not to mention lesser lights such as Robert Volkmann. Alas, he did not live long enough to fully throw off those diverse influences. An avalanche brought an abrupt end to his career during a skiing trip in the Tatras Mountains in 1909. The Serenade, one of Karlowicz's earliest scores, is a pleasant, unpretentious work in four short movements lasting just over 22 minutes. The masterly string writing is quite impressive for a 21 year old music student. There is also a wealth of melodic invention, although Karolowicz rarely allows his ideas to blossom fully. With the impatience of youth he moves all too quickly and abruptly from one idea to the next. On this disc, the usually reliable Antoni Wit leads a lackluster performance that does little to obscure the seams between the score's various sections. Far more smoothly flowing and persuasive is the recording by the Berlin Chamber Symphony on the EDA label. The Violin Concerto, completed less than five years after the Serenade, represents a quantum leap in the composer's development. The solo writing is confident and idiomatic (Karolowicz was, after all, an accomplished fiddler in his own right), and the orchestration is brilliant and bracing. The model was clearly Tchaikovsky's popular concerto and, alas, this score pales in comparison with its great predecessor. Still there is much to enjoy here, although one wishes (as with the Serenade) that Karlowicz had allowed more space to expand upon his themes and enable the melodies to soar. Soloist Ilya Kaler is a talented and critically-acclaimed artist, but here again I prefer an earlier recording--by violinist Konstanty Andrzej Kulka on Accord ACD071. The phrasing is smoother and the violin's fireworks are more effectively integrated into the musical fabric on that disc.
When music lovers are asked to name Polish composers, they are likely to respond with names such as Chopin, Gorecki, Moniuszko, Paderewski, Szymanowski, and Wieniawski. Compared with these, Mieczyslaw Karlowicz (1876-1909) is still virtually unknown, although he is slowly gaining recognition as a late-Romantic composer whose music deserves to be better known. His obscurity is owing partly to his premature death; at age 33 he was killed by an avalanche while he was skiing in the Tatra mountains. Earlier recordings of his music, especially his Violin Concerto, have been available for many years, but his works have scarcely gained a foothold in the repertory. This new CD from Naxos, which couples his Violin Concerto, Op. 8 with his Serenade, Op. 2, will hopefully help to bring the music of a sadly neglected composer to more concert-goers. Ilya Kaler delivers a warm and sympathetic performance of the Violin Concerto with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under Antoni Wit. The Serenade, Op. 2 also receives an excellent performance. The recorded sound quality is up to Naxos's usual high standards, and Richard Whitehouse's annotations are very informative. Lovers of music of the late-Romantic era owe a dept of gratitude to conductor Antoni Wit and Naxos for bringing to us the music of Karlowicz on several bargain-priced CDs, of which this is the most recent. Heartily recommended - don't miss it! Ted Wilks