ZYGMUNT NOSKOWSKI: Orchestral Works Vol. 2 = Symphony No. 2; Odglosy pamiatkowe; Variations on an original theme – Polska Orkiestra Radiowa /Lukasz Borowicz – Sterling CDS10932 [Distr. by Qualiton] 52:57 ****:
Zygmunt Noskowski (1846-1909) was among the elite of Polish composition and teaching, and in his day, a highly respected and successful musician. After a period studying and working in Germany, he returned to Warsaw in 1880 and became head of the Warsaw Music Society. Having been a pupil of Stanislas Monuiszko, his own pupils included Karol Szymanowski and Gregor Fitelberg, and in his day he was considered the leading Polish composer.
The composer began work on the Second Symphony in 1875. Titled “Elegjina”, the “Elegiac”, it was something of a response to the anti-Tsarist uprising of 1863 and the failure of Poland to gain much longed-for independence. The first movement opens darkly (the symphony is in C minor) before embarking on the main allegro molto, powerful in its cyclic shape and strength of feeling. The second movement is a scherzo marked vivace and in the rhythm of the krakowiak and contrasts strongly with the accompanying trio which is solemn and somewhat foreboding. The third movement moves to the heart of the work, a profound and moving Elegy, in which all the doubts and fears expressed earlier come to fruition. Finally, the mood changes for the last movement, with its feeling of strength and optimism, grit and determination, including a quotation from the Polish National Anthem. It is a piece of its time, and its chauvinism can be understood and forgiven in its context.
The short seven movement suite, “Odglosy pamiatkowe” (Commemorative Sounds), is decidedly lighter fare, based on Polish songs and marches, and serves as a delightful interlude before the last piece in this collection, “Variations on an Original Theme”. Apart from the last variation, which is the most inspired in its writing – especially the concluding fugato, the theme and first six variations are all a minute in length or somewhat less. However, the miniature construction of both works contain much charm.
The Polish Radio Orchestra under their conductor, Lukasz Borowicz, produce first-class performances in every department, and they have been warmly recorded in the Witold Lutoslawki Concert Studio of Polish Radio, with whom this release is a co-production. Those who were taken with Volume 1 will be delighted by this second volume. I hope there’s a third to follow, with the Third Symphony, “From Spring to Spring”. Sterling continues to surprise and pleasure with these neglected byways of Romantic repertoire.
— Peter Joelson