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Polish Masterworks / Joann Falletta, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Release Date: 06/20/2012 
Label:  Beau Fleuve Records   Catalog #: 5637966940   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Karol SzymanowskiHenri WieniawskiWitold LutoslawskiMieczyslaw Karlowicz
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

POLISH MASTERWORKS JoAnn Falletta, cond; Michael Ludwig (vn); Buffalo PO BEAU FLEUVE 610708-094906 (74:03)

SZYMANOWSKI Concert Overture. WIENIAWSKI Violin Concerto No. 2. LUTOS?AWSKI Concerto for Orchestra. KAR?OWICZ A Sad Tale

This is the kind of release we Read more Fanfare writers love to review. The program has a theme, there is something for both novices and collectors, the performances are top-notch, the conducting likewise, the program notes (Edward Yadzinski) are informative and well written, and the sound borders on the spectacular. What’s not to like?

The theme is obvious from the title, and it reflects the city from which the product emanates. In the inlay booklet, conductor JoAnn Falletta notes that Buffalo is home to “a large and culturally thriving Polish community who are avid and enthusiastic musicians and music lovers.” Some may quibble with everything being a “masterwork,” but there is no denying all four works are worthy.

To begin with the best known, Wieniawski’s Second Violin Concerto receives an eminently satisfying performance featuring the Buffalo Philharmonic’s concertmaster Michael Ludwig. At least four other Fanfare critics have praised Ludwig’s playing in previous releases, and I add my name to that list. What I particularly like about Ludwig’s playing is that he is not obviously trying to impress us with a big fat sound, virtuosic pyrotechnics, or hothouse sentimentality. He plays with taste, poetry, and elegance; that’s all the music needs, and I much prefer his performance to Isaac Stern’s overwrought, at times sloppy, account. The Buffalo Philharmonic must feel proud to have such a concertmaster as Ludwig.

Lutos?awski’s Concerto for Orchestra is almost certainly the best-known work of its kind after Bartók’s. Throughout its 30 minutes’ duration it remains continuously fascinating, and richly deserves its reputation as one of the finest orchestral scores of the 20th century. Falletta brings a sense of urgency, understanding of the architecture, and a level of commitment to her performance that surpass even those of Ozawa (Chicago) and Rowicki (Warsaw PO). Textural clarity is always maintained in a dense and busy score.

To the unsuspecting, the Szymanowski Concert Overture might well be the introduction to a little-known Strauss opera or the lead-in to a swashbuckling Korngold film score. The work bears comparison with Richard Strauss’s tone poem Don Juan of 1888, also written when the composer was in his early-20s. Both works are drenched in hyperemotional romanticism, are saturated with densely packed orchestral polyphony, feature wildly twisting melodic lines, require a large orchestra, and loosely follow sonata form structure. The ecstatic, exuberant nature of Szymanowski’s work is evident right from the ascending first subject proclaimed by strings and six horns (again, much as in Don Juan ). Performance directions like Estatico, Amoroso , Z ornig (angrily) and Affetuoso pepper the score. The exultant, energetic quality of the principal theme is balanced by the quiet restraint of the second, marked Dolce amoroso . Another Straussian feature is the use of the solo violin, whose ardently expressive qualities within an orchestral context Szymanowski would later exploit more fully in two violin concertos.

Least known of the four composers here is Mieczys?aw Kar?owicz, whose death at the age of 32 in an avalanche while skiing in his beloved Tatra Mountains deprived Poland of one of its most promising young talents. Although he left only 14 published works, they indicate a composer on the verge of greatness. His reputation today rests securely on a Violin Concerto and on several symphonic poems based on themes of pantheism, grief, melancholy, and Wagnerian passion. A Sad Tale (1908) bears much in common with Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead , composed just a year later. Both are tone poems on gloomy subjects (though Kar?owicz’s is left to the imagination), require a large orchestra (quadruple woodwinds, six horns), are heavily contrapuntal, densely scored, and rise to a moment of exuberance before reverting to resignation, melancholia, and infinite sadness for quiet endings.

Falletta and her Buffaloans make strong, totally convincing cases for all four works. Brass are especially strong. The orchestra has all the technical assurance required for the virtuosic demands of the Lutos?awski concerto. The feathery lightness and rhythmic precision that strings and woodwinds bring to the concerto’s second movement are no less accomplished than what is heard in the Chicago Symphony’s recording. Elsewhere the sound is big and full, never blarey or brash. This is a formidable orchestra indeed, and my opinion of it remains as high as what I expressed in my review of Marcel Tyberg’s Third Symphony ( Fanfare 34:5).

FANFARE: Robert Markow
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Works on This Recording

Concert Overture in E major, Op. 12 by Karol Szymanowski
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1905/1913; Poland 
Concerto for Violin no 2 in D minor, Op. 22 by Henri Wieniawski
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1862; St. Petersburg, Russ 
Concerto for Orchestra by Witold Lutoslawski
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1954; Poland 
A Sorrowful Tale, Op. 13 "Preludes to Eternity" by Mieczyslaw Karlowicz
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1908; Poland 

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