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Szymanowski: Symphonies No 3 & 4 / Wit, Warsaw Philharmonic

Release Date: 02/22/2011 
Label:  Ica Classics   Catalog #: 5017  
Composer:  Karol Szymanowski
Performer:  Rafal BartminskyJan Krzysztof Broja
Conductor:  Antoni Wit
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Superbly filmed for Polish Television, Antoni Wit's performances of Szymanowski's Third and Fourth Symphonies embody the distinguished and idiomatic conducting style for which he is widely recognised. An outstanding communicator, Wit exhibits exceptional attention to detail in his rendition of these two great works with his own orchestra and choir. The recording also benefits from DTS 5.1 surround sound. The ICA Classics Live series features performances from ICA's own artists recorded in prestigious venues around the world. The majority of the recordings are enjoying their first commercial release.

Karol Szymanowski:
Symphony No. 3, Op. 27, "Pie?? o nocy" (The Song of the Night)
Symphony No. 4, Op.
Read more 60, "Symphonie Concertante"
Rafa? Bartmi?ski, tenor
Jan Krzysztof Broja, piano
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra
Antoni Wit, conductor
Recorded at the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, 19 November 2009
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: LPCM Stereo / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Running time: 55 mins

R E V I E W:

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 firmanent 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.

-- Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 3, Op. 27 "Song of the Night" by Karol Szymanowski
Performer:  Rafal Bartminsky (Tenor)
Conductor:  Antoni Wit
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914-1916; Poland 
Symphony no 4, Op. 60 "Symphonie concertante" by Karol Szymanowski
Performer:  Jan Krzysztof Broja (Piano)
Conductor:  Antoni Wit
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1932; Poland 

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