There is another review of Mieczyslaw Karlowicz (his Rebirth Symphony) – this one on SACD – on this website. As mentioned in that review, the composer’s death by avalanche precluded what promised to be a fruitful life of composition. As is, the jury remains out; what we have is tantalizingly appetitive, but frustratingly incomplete. His last six works, as it turned out, happened to be tone poems, three of which are included here in this designated “Volume 1” from Naxos.
First off, the performances are uniformly excellent. Antoni Wit has proven himself, in a rather humble and non-spotlight seeking manner, to be one of the finest and most consistent conductors in the world (his recent Alpine Symphony is one of the best). If this proves to be a series in the now-common Naxos-style, it will be an important one, despite the lack of surround sound, which would benefit this music tremendously. However, lest I start to sound like a rave, I must report that not all of the music here is of equal worth and quality. Stanislaw and Anna Oswiecimowie is the tale of an incestuous brother and sister from a 17th century legend, whereas they actually apply to the Pope for permission to get married (and it is granted!) but by the time Stanislaw returns home, Anna is dead. Strange. But very effective, and it would become one of Karlowicz’s most popular pieces.
His Lithuanian Rhapsody is rhapsodic, but also somber and introverted, with only a brief spurt of dance-like histrionics appearing at the end. Episode at a Masquerade is for me a bit of a dog. Episode is right, for I found the work very diffuse and hard to follow musically, though it is quite tonal and even less hyper-romantic than the other works here.
The sound is really fine with a rich sense of depth and breadth that serves Wit and forces well. This is a fine start to what will be an important series, even though the music might prove a little uneven.