Not sure when this happened, as I don’t check their site regularly and haven’t seen it for over a year, but it appears that Polskie Nagrania (Muza) have opened an mp3 store! Here’s the address: http://www.polskienagrania.com.pl/wersja_angielska/
This should be good news for anyone interested in Polish music. As far as I know, in many parts of the world Polskie Nagrania (Muza) CDs are very difficult to find, so the possibility to download them should be convenient.
At this moment, their classical music selection consists of 60 items (which does not translate directly to CDs, because some of them are multiple-disc sets – I think it all adds up to around 80 CDs worth of downloads). Unfortunately, many of them are not available yet (“mp3 files in preparation” – this includes some very interesting items). And some of the links don’t work (404 errors). But I’m hoping that that is something temporary. And that the items that appear to be available are actually available, ie. the store does actually work – that is something I haven’t checked myself, as I don’t have any need for new music at the moment.
The old Olympia disc of Szabelski’s orchestral music (from Polskie Nagrania LPs) has been long out of print, so it is very exciting to see this new disc coming from DUX (it would have been even more exciting to see some previously unreleased pieces from Szabelski’s relatively small output, but I’ll settle for this). It contains new recordings of the Toccata (1936) and Concerto grosso (1954). After that comes the music of Szabelski’s student, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (not Mikołaj Górecki, as the DUX site would have us believe – that’s the name of H.M.Górecki’s son, who is also a composer): the under-appreciated and rarely heard Three Dances op. 34. Górecki’s music is followed by that of, in turn, his pupil, Eugeniusz Knapik. One of my two favorite “Stalowa Wola Generation” composers. His piece is the song cycle La flute de jade for soprano and orchestra (have never heard it). Performers are: Bożena Harasimowicz (soprano) and the Silesian Philharmonic Orchestra under Mirosław Jacek Błaszczyk. I must say I greatly appreciate the idea of building a disc around a teacher-student, generation-after-generation concept. Really looking forward to this.
(The catalog number is DUX 0732.)
We’ll never get through this if I only post one CD per entry. So three in one go today.
Since Mieczysław Karłowicz died the same year that Grażyna Bacewicz was born, they share a 100th anniversary this year (of his death and her birth). On that account DUX have released something that promises to be a real treat: a recording of the Violin Concerto No. 3 (Bacewicz) coupled with Eternal Songs (Karłowicz). The soloist in the concerto is Krzysztof Jakowicz. He happens to be my favorite Polish violinist so I am quite, quite excited (especially since his discography has been rather skimpy so far, and he’s turning 70 soon). The orchestra can’t really be called world-class but it’s not a bad ensemble either: it’s the Orchestra of the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic in Białystok under Marcin Nałęcz-Niesiołowski.
The second interesting release I’d like to mention is a disc of Krzysztof Penderecki‘s complete choral works (!) sung by the Polish Chamber Choir – a seasoned choral ensemble (one of the best in this country), which you might also know by the name Schola Cantorum Gedanensis. It is conducted by Jan Łukaszewski, its musical director since 1983. The disc is sure to get some attention and personally, I think there are never enough recordings of pieces such as the Stabat Mater or Song of the Cherubim. The disc contains two world premiere recordings. Both are of arrangements: of the popular song Kaczka pstra and of the Aria from Three Pieces in Old Style (1963).
And finally – a new Aleksander Tansman disc. Works for cello and piano. It contains the following pieces: Deux pieces pour violoncelle et piano (1931, a Pablo Casals), Sonate No. 2 pour violoncelle et piano (1930, a Maurice Maréchal), Fantaisie pour violoncelle avec orchestre ou piano (1936, a Gregor Piatigorsky), Partita pour violoncelle et piano (1955, a Gaspar Cassado), Quatre pieces faciles pour violoncelle et piano. Looks like quite a treat, though I can’t say the names of the performers, Jan Kalinowski – cello and Marek Szlezer – piano (who go by the collective name of the Cracow Duo) mean anything to me. Though I’m sure they will one day.
Jerzy Godziszewski‘s recordings of Karol Szymanowski‘s complete piano pieces were the first complete set in history. The CD incarnation was released in 1998 (on 4 discs) to great critical acclaim (in Poland – I’m not aware if the set ever reached Western ears). It garnered several awards. But as it was released by the Polish Radio, it quickly went out of print (they have very small runs). I’ve been on the lookout for used copies for a while but they were all rather expensive. Well, I have reason for jubilation, because now the set has finally been re-released! And while not as cheap as some of those recent EMI boxes (not to mention Brilliant), it’s more or less affordable (mid-range, I’d say; it costs about 80 PLN – that’s roughly 20 EUR, 28 USD, 17 GBP).
The old set looked like this (PR CD 111-114), box and individual discs:
And here’s the cover of the new one (PRCD 1261-64):
And here (a Polish Radio page) is where you can listen to some samples.
As promised, I’m continuing the “recently spotted” overview. DUX has released a new disc in their Krzysztof Meyer series (previous releases were a two-disc set of quintets – piano and clarinet, and a disc of various concertos – clarinet, violin and cello). It contains two very recent pieces: a Symphony (no. 7) from 2002-03 and a Double Concerto (violin and cello) from 2005-06. The catalogue number is DUX 0695.
Performers are Magdalena Rezler-Niesiołowska (violin), Julius Berger (cello) and the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gabriel Chmura and Łukasz Borowicz, respectively.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I think that Krzysztof Meyer is one of the greatest Polish composers alive today. His string quartet cycle is a towering achievement that can proudly stand next to the best the 20th century has produced. He’s also active as a musicologist and music theorist (with theory of composition at the center of his interests, obviously). He teaches composition at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne.
He has written an important book on Dmitri Shostakovich (whom he had corresponded with for many years and had visited several times as well – an account of this friendship forms the afterword to the book, perhaps the most interesting and touching part of the whole). Meyer has also written a completion of Shostakovich’s Gogolian opera The Gamblers (produced in Wuppertal in 1983 and Poznan in 2005, recorded with the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie under Michail Jurowski and released on Capriccio). While it would be difficult to pinpoint any Shostakovichian influences in Meyer’s earliest compositions which were closer in idiom to the avantgarde (though, except for a select few, they can’t really be called avantgarde works per se), there might be a Shostakovichian air in his post-1970s pieces in which he attains a more balanced, “synthetic” musical style, where sonoristic considerations are subordinated to other elements. The link to Shostakovich seems especially evident in the chamber pieces, such as the string quartets or the piano trio.
Meyer has also co-written (with his wife, the musicologist Jadwiga Gwizdalanka) a two-volume monograph devoted to the life and work of Witold Lutosławski. I feel that his music is extremely closely related to Lutosławski’s, though there are of course differences, some of them glaringly obvious (chamber music certainly seems to be one of Meyer’s main interests, while it was more of a sideline in Lutosławski’s output). The link is very personal here again, since Meyer took private composition lessons from Lutosławski.
There is also an eddy of strictly “postmodern”, playful pieces in Meyer’s output: modern attempts at old composing techniques. I mean pieces such as Caro Luigi for 4 cellos and string orchestra (a sort of Boccherini pastiche) or Symphony in the Style of Mozart (great fun, not least due to the way it is built out of Mozart quotations). Meyer has developed an interesting personal concept of musical form (drama), made up of 5 phases, which he employs in his own compositions.
This is a disc I’m certainly getting at some point and once I do, I might return to it on these pages.
Despite the all-encompassing economic turmoil DUX is churning out new albums as regularly as ever. This and a couple of posts to follow will be dedicated to some new releases I’ve spotted on their site in the past months. As previously, these are not necessarily the most important, they are simply the ones I personally wanted to note down for further reference (or maybe even purchase, if I find a rich sponsor :roll:) … I haven’t heard any of them (yet?). They might all turn out to be complete duds. These are alerts, not reviews.
A new recording of Stanislaw Moniuszko’s Halka (note the cover! the first intelligent cover of Halka I’ve ever seen). Forces are (roughly?) the same as on the earlier DUX DVD which received favorable reviews (I have no opinion myself, I’ve yet to get the DVD itself). Of course, one is bound to ask immediately: do we actually need another recording of Moniuszko’s first opera? The answer, quite predictably, seems to be both yes and no.
Yes, of course we need as many recordings of Halka as we can get. First of all, because Moniuszko’s operatic debut is a great work (much, much greater than one is used to expect from a “first opera”; in fact, it is often referred to as a “masterpiece” – which isn’t all that surprising at all, especially if you consider how innovative it was – not in terms of musical idiom but general concept – the earlier, Vilnius version of 1848 was pretty much a Wagnerian drama; and the daring libretto is excellent in its own right too).
Secondly, we need another recording because while Halka appears to be the most recorded Polish opera (with King Roger breathing down her neck), it still is lamentably underrecorded. Why, I can give you a full list straight away.
Complete recordings of the later “Warsaw version” on DVD:
1) the Polish National Opera (Teatr Wielki) recording on ZPR (out of print),
2) the Wroclaw Opera recording on DUX (still in print!).
Audio-only complete recordings of the “Warsaw version”:
1) Bolshoy Theatre/Kondrashin (rec. live 1952) on Melodiya LPs (out of print, never released on CD),
2) the Poznan Opera/Valerian Berdyaev on Polskie Nagrania-Muza LPs (out of print, never released on CD, often quoted as the “ultimate” Halka),
3) PRNSO/Jerzy Semkow on Polskie Nagrania LPs, later rereleased on Chant du Monde CDs (both releases out of print),
4) Polish National Opera (Teatr Wielki)/Robert Satanowski on CPO (appears to be still in print!),
5) Polish National Opera (Teatr Wielki)/Antoni Wicherek on ZPR (out of print),
6) Wroclaw Opera/Ewa Michnik on DUX (the recording this post is about).
There’s also a single recording of the earlier “Vilnius version”, Warsaw Chamber Opera/Ruben Silva on Pro Musica Camerata/Polskie Nagrania (recently gone out of print).
Also worth mentioning is a generous selection of highlights from the opera – recorded around 1932 and released then on multiple records by Syrena-Elektro, remastered and re-released on 2 LPs in 1980 by Polskie Nagrania (both versions out of print and never released on CD). And a CD of highlights on Polskie Nagrania (Polish National Opera-Teatr Wielki/Zdzislaw Gorzynski, released on LP earlier, both out of print). If you read Polish, you can find further comments on these recordings on the Trubadur website (Jacek Chodorowski Płytowe dzieje Halki Stanisława Moniuszki – this was a great help in compiling my list).
Anyway, this new DUX release would appear to be the 7th complete Halka and the 5th available on CD – not much, if you ask me. Plus this will be one of only two recordings in print. So not all that much to choose from.
That was reason number two. Reason number three: once the market is flooded with enough “regular” recordings of Halka, we might finally get something spectacular. Like a HIP recording or something. (Marc Minkowski conducted some orchestral excerpts from the opera with the Sinfonia Varsovia last year but it appears he is not intending to commit them to disc…)
And why don’t we need a new Halka? Well, this isn’t a real reason but there are countless, repeat COUNTLESS works by Moniuszko, many of them masterpieces (reputed masterpieces?), that have never ever been recorded and are hardly ever performed (when the heck is someone finally going to record the cantatas, dammit! at least the most important ones! two cantatas? one? please? pretty please…?). Why not give us one of those? And even among the pieces that already have been recorded, there are many out of print items which deserve to remain available at least as much as Halka does, if not more… What’s more, there are lots of operas and oratorios and cantatas by other Polish composers (e.g. Żeleński, Nowowiejski, Różycki and many more) which deserve to be finally heard.
But that, as I said, is not a real reason not to record Halka one more time (and another one after that). It is simply a reason to record other stuff as well. So I welcome this effort with much, much joy. Moniuszko died 190 years ago this year and DUX seem to be the only people to have noticed… that’s a shame…
I’m starting a new category which will enable me to keep track of interesting new releases. These are not meant to represent “the most interesting new releases, period” but rather “those new releases which seem most interesting to me“. So in this specific case I’m treating the blog as a kind of personal book of notes for further use (a wishlist of sorts). Perhaps (hopefully) the contents of this scrapbook will prove to be of some use to others as well. It is in that hope that I’m adding explanatory comments, where I’ll try to show why I think a certain new disc might be interesting. Bear in mind that these are discs that I’m curious about, not discs that I have actually heard and can recommend!
Two new CDs spotted recently.
First, a new Polish Radio release (PRCD 1173-1176). Any self respecting contemporary music lover should immediately start salivating upon learning about the existence of this one. A 4-disc set of electronic music from the Polish master of the genre Eugeniusz Rudnik:
So, who is Rudnik? If you’re interested in electronic music, you probably know already.
In a sense, Rudnik is the man who single-handedly created Polish electronic music, or the “Polish school” of electronic music (if there is such a thing). If you need a sample of his genius, go to this UbuWeb page (“40 Years of Polish Experimental Radio from Studio Warsaw”) and download the pieces offered there. Of course, Rudnik did not really do it all alone – there were others, whose work is also available on that UbuWeb page (Włodzimierz Kotoński comes to mind right away). But still, Polish electronic music would probably be something completely different if it hadn’t been for Rudnik’s priceless contributions: he is a brilliant composer but also the sound engineer who assisted many other composers (Kotoński, Penderecki, Paweł Szymański) in creating their own works. Many of these works currently hold the status of electronic “classics”.
The 4-disc album pictured above gives an overview of Rudnik’s 50-year career. It contains 19 pieces composed (written??) in the years 1959-2002, representing a vast array of genres (from pure music to poetic musical journalism). Rough translations in brackets:
Lekcja 1, Lekcja 2 (Lesson 1, Lesson 2)
Kamienne epitafium – pamięci ks. Jerzego Popiełuszki (Epitath in stone – to the memory of fr Jerzy Popiełuszko)
Podzwonne – pamięci Andrzeja Markowskiego (Funeral bells – to the memory of Andrzej Markowski)
Via Crucis – pamięci zamordowanym w Katyniu (Via Crucis – to the memory of those murdered in Katyn)
Ptacy i ludzie (Birds and people)
Sekunda Wielka (Major Second)
Peregrynacje Pana Podchorążego albo nadwiślańskie żarna (The officer caders peregrinations or quern-stones from the banks of the Vistula)
Diewuszka, wasze dokumienty
Przyjaciółki z Żelaznej ulicy (Friends from Żelazna street)
Martwa natura z ptakiem, zegarem, strzelcem i panną (Still life with a bird, clock, hunter and maiden)
Śniadanie na trawie w grocie Lascaux (The lunch on the grass of the Lascaux cave)
And from DUX (DUX 0683) yet another release in their Nowowiejski series, this one containing two masses:
Missa Pro Pace for mixed chorus, organ and orchestra op. 49 nr 3
Missa Stella Maris for mixed chorus and organ op. 49 nr 4
Performers: Anna Dramowicz organ, Maciej Ingielewicz organ, Collegium Musicum Olsztyn Chamber Choir/Janusz Wiliński, The Felix Nowowiejski Warmia-Mazury Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra (phew!)/Janusz Przybylski
For those not in the know: Feliks Nowowiejski is an early 20th century composer. In Poland he is probably best remembered for the song Rota (1910). Or rather – disremembered for it. I’d venture a guess that there does not exist a single grownup Pole who does not know this song. It was close to national anthem status for a while and practically everyone knows at least the first few lines (the words are from a poem by Maria Konopnicka). But knowing the song does not amount to knowing the composer, or even to being aware that the thing was actually ever written by someone. This piece is so popular that it has acheived the pinnacle of cult status: complete anonymity.
As for recordings and performances, Nowowiejski remains known today only for his organ works. Though notoriously difficult to play they’ve somehow managed to remain in the repertoire, not just in Poland but worldwide (though they can hardly be called staple).
In his time, though, Nowowiejski was actually quite popular, mostly for large scale vocal-orchestral works. Born in 1877, he won the Prix de Rome in 1902 for an oratorio titled The Return of the Prodigal Son (yes indeed, just like Debussy) and a piece called Romantic Overture. Two years later he won the prize again, this time for two symphonies (apart from that, in his lifetime he was awarded quite an impressive amount of other prizes). At the time of his Roman successes he was already an accomplished musician, who had studied composition and the organ in Berlin. Until 1906 he continued studying in Regensburg (where Max Bruch was one of his teachers). The Prix de Rome enabled him to travel around a bit (in fact, it required that he did so) – he visited France, Austria, Italy, Belgium, Bohemia, Africa, and Palestine. During these travels he met Anton Dvorak whose advice he is said to have valued very highly. Among the other composers he met then were Mahler, Saint-Saëns, Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo. After returning to Poland he launched a very successful conducting career (his notably wide repertoire included pieces by Bruckner, Mahler, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner and Palestrina!).
During Nowowiejski’s life his most famous and popular work was the oratorio Quo vadis, based on the famous novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz (Sienkiewicz got his 1895 Nobel Prize mainly for that novel). It was apparently a very eclectic work: the choral part was indebted to Haydn and even Handel, while the orchestral part was very Wagner-like (but nothing beyond that). It was premiered in Amsterdam in 1909 and was performed in more than 150 cities in Europe and America (including Carnegie Hall in 1912). Today it is forgotten, has never been released on CD or LP. His other oratorios also gained considerable fame in their time, though never really comparable to that of Quo vadis. He was also a very successful opera composer. Yet, again, not even his most famous opera The Legend of the Baltic has ever been recorded (except for a few arias) – and it has only been staged 4 times after World War II! His ballets have not been staged after the war at all! His symphonies are practically never performed.
Nowowiejski wrote in a rather traditional idiom and was a splendid orchestrator. Some of his writing may remind one of Różycki, Bruckner, Strauss, Alfven, Dukas or even Janacek! He was married and had 5 children. He died shortly after World War II, in January 1946. A wonderful but completely forgotten composer. The recent series of releases from DUX should be appreciated, even if the employed forces look somewhat suspect.