• Katowice: Skrowaczewski takes a bow

The highpoint of my trip to Katowice last month was my second visit to the new (2014) home of the Polish Radio National SO (NOSPR).  In November that year, I heard the 91-year-old Stanisław Skrowaczewski conduct Shostakovich 5.  I never imagined that I would get to hear him again, but my luck was in again this year.  On 8 April, now 92, Skrowaczewski conducted NOSPR in a luminous account of Bruckner 8.  It was breathtakingly beautiful, intense and uplifting and seamlessly shaped.

As the audience rose in a spontaneous standing ovation, I remembered my camera and shot one of the ‘curtain calls’.

• ‘Warsaw Autumn’ 2016 news

8c9180d245_WJ2016The 59th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ takes place this year 16-24 September.  Its central programme will be ‘multimedialny, parateatralny and parasceniczny’ (to borrow the Polish descriptions in the advance notice).  Highlights include:

• the Warsaw premiere of Paweł Mykietyn’s opera The Magic Mountain (2015)
• Sławomir Wojciechowski’s multimedia opera Aaron S (2016), a tribute to the internet activist Aaron Swartz
• Juliana Hodkinson’s assemblage (radio play/film soundtrack/instrumental theatre) Angel View (2014)
• Olga Neuwirth’s video-opera Lost Highway (2002-03)
• Fabian Panisello’s chamber opera Le Malentendu (2016)
• Salvatore Sciarrino’s opera Luci mie traditrici (1996-98), ‘ecstasy in one act’ Infinito Nero (1998), Shadow of Sound (2005) and other pieces

• Meakultura ‘Kropka’ Awards

1459681287This is the second year that the Meakultura Foundation in Warsaw has run its ‘Polish Music Critics Competition’, ‘Kropka’ (Dot).  ‘Kropka’ is open to printed texts, blogs, newcomers and popular music, and there’s an award from the Editor-in-Chief of the Polish publishers PWM.

This year’s winners (Polish-language page only) have just been announced and their 2015 submissions covered a wide range of topics, from Baroque performance to Star Wars.  The winning entries came from Paweł Siechowicz, Magdalena Romańska, Antoni Michnik, Karolina Dąbek, Olga Drenda and the opera blogger Dorota Kozińska.

The Special Award for a foreign text went last year to Alex Ross for his review in The New Yorker of Paweł Szymański’s opera Qudsja Zaher (Grand Theatre, Warsaw).  Congratulations to this year’s winner, John Allison of Opera magazine, for his review of Szymanowski’s King Roger (Royal Opera House, London) in May 2015.

• Szymanowski Letters in English, vol.1

Other than Polish publications, the greatest insights and investigation into the life and music of Karol Szymanowski have come from English-language authors.  Jim Samson, Christopher Palmer and Stephen Downes are just three major contributors over recent decades.  But when it comes to documentary sources in translation, only now is the interested reader able to appreciate something of the range of material available to Polish readers for a much longer time.

Since February 2012, William Hughes has undertaken the gargantuan task of translating a host of Polish articles about Szymanowski.  The tally continues to rise (see http://drwilliamhughes.blogspot.co.uk); today’s post is ‘Karol Szymanowski – Diary of the First Journey to America (1921)’.  Hughes published the first stage of his project – Karol Szymanowski.  Posthumous Tributes (1937-38) – in hard copy in 2013.  I wrote about his book in an earlier post, The Indefatigable William Hughes.

Since 1999, however, there has been one printed source in English, and it is a real treasure trove: Szymanowski on Music.  Selected Writings of Karol Szymanowski, edited and translated by Alistair Wightman.  Wightman is also the author of two hard-copy studies of the music: Karol Szymanowski.  His Life and Work (1999) and Szymanowski’s King Roger: The Opera and its Origins (2015).Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 20.27.58Wightman has now published – and it would appear to be online only – the first volume of a series devoted to the composer’s letters: Karol Szymanowski: Correspondence,  Volume 1: 1902-1919.  There are 401 letters in the volume and it is available from Smashwords at $15.99.  I have not yet had time to read it, but it includes explanatory footnotes, a very brief Bibliography, a Personalia and Indexes.  The first years of the correspondence are available to read as a free sample at https://www.smashwords.com/extreader/read/622747/2/karol-szymanowski-correspondence-volume-1-1902-1919.

Such acts of selfless dedication by Hughes and Wightman to broaden the readership of Szymanowski materials is hugely to be applauded and supported, so the more people who buy Hughes’s hard-copy book and Wightman’s new online volume the better.

• In His Element

1450790520I’ve been meaning for a few weeks to mention a new recording of Górecki’s most challenging composition.  In fact, it is only the second time that Genesis I: Elementi for three string instruments (1962) has appeared on CD.  It was first issued on Olympia OCD 375 (1994) in a performance by members of the Silesian Quartet (Kwartet Śląski) recorded the previous year.  Given the closeness of Górecki to the Silesian Quartet – they all lived and worked in Katowice – it is certain that he worked with them on the piece and may even have been present at the recording.  The players will remember.  Although it is not now generally available, it sometimes appears as a ‘used’ CD.

Last month a second recording appeared, on Challenge Classics CC72713 (CD and mp3 download), in a performance by the Goeyvaerts String Trio recorded last year.

gorecki-2-c-adrian-thomas3It was a particular thrill when the cellist Pieter Stas asked if I would let them include in the booklet a photo of Górecki that I had taken in the summer of 1987.  I was staying with the Górecki family in Chochołów, not far from Zakopane in southern Poland, and we had taken a long walk across country amidst the hay stacks.  We eventually reached a farm where Górecki and his wife Jadwiga had spent their honeymoon in 1959.  Twenty eight years later, they were thrilled to find that the farmer was still there. This is a little record of that reunion.  But to more important matters.

The Goeyvaerts recording differs in key respects to that of the Silesians.  For one thing, it is a Hybrid Surround recording, so Górecki’s stipulation of spatial separation between the three players has been brilliantly realised (the score specifies a triangular layout with 10-12 metres between violin and cello and 6-8 metres from the viola to the other two instruments).  Secondly, the new recording is closer in timing to Górecki’s 12’42”.  Where the Silesian Quartet came in at a nifty 10’37”, the Goeyvaerts Trio, at 13’22”, is 2’45” longer.

I have listened to the earlier recording so many times that it is now firmly imprinted.  It is raw, urgent and immediate and I still think that it captures Górecki’s fierceness and the white-hot passion in which he composed it in February-March 1962.  I wouldn’t be without it.  The Goeyvaerts Trio brings a new dimension, both physically in terms of the movement of sound and in the grinding insistence that the slower tempo brings.  The ear is compelled to examine the textures more closely, rather than being swept along, and different details emerge, especially in the quieter moments where lyrical delicacy not ferocious brutality holds sway.  Without losing cohesion, the Goeyvaerts players bring out Górecki’s mantra (which he repeated to me on a number of occasions) that this is a work for three string instruments, not for string trio.  So bravo to Kristien Roels, Kris Matthynssens and Pieter Stas for bringing to new ears this vital but rarely performed work from a 28-year-old Górecki.

• Bôłt & 58th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ CDs

More Polish CD goodies came through the post this morning.  First there was a selection of five new releases from the innovative Bôłt Records.  I’m particularly intrigued by three CDs exploring Schubert’s Winterreise.  Details of these and other releases may be found on Bôłt’s English-language website.

IMG_8446 copySecondly, I opened the boxed set of the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ sound chronicle for 2015 (six CDs).  This annual post-Christmas gift is not available commercially but is distributed to institutions and interested parties by the Polish Music Information Centre, and it is always a treat to savour.  As in recent years, the bulk of the recordings is of non-Polish music, and several of the main festival events – indoor and outdoor installations, music theatre – would not have suited the CD format.  Here’s the complete list of recordings (Polish composers in bold, ** = world premiere, * = Polish premiere):

CD1
• Alvin Lucier: Slices for cello and orchestra (2007)* 20’49”
Lidia Zielińska: Sinfonia concertante for small sound devices, small percussion and large orchestra (2014-15)**  26’13”
• Helmut Lachenmann: Air for percussion and large orchestra (1968-69, rev. 1994)  17’42”
• Justė Janulytė: Textile for orchestra (2006-08)*  10’55”

CD2
• Philippe Manoury: Zones de turbulences for two pianos and orchestra (2013)* 13’47”
• Simon Steen-Andersen: Double Up for sampler and small orchestra (2010)*  17’23”
• Ken Ueno: …blood blossoms… for amplified sextet (2002)*  11’45”
Marta Śniady: aer for clarinet/bass clarinet and chamber ensemble (2014)  19’25”
• Stefan Prins: Fremdkörper #3 (mit Michael Jackson) for cgamber ensemble and sampler (2010)*  13’10”

CD3
Jerzy Kornowicz: Wielkie Przejście (The Big Crossing) for piano and other concertante instruments and orchestra (2013)*  19’56”
• Carola Bauckholt: Emil will nicht schlafen… for voice and orchestra (2010)*  9’31”
• José María Sánchez-Verdú: Mural for large orchestra (2009-10)*  15’36”
• Phill Niblock: Baobab for orchestra (2011)*  22’05”

CD4
Paweł Hendrich: Pteropetros for accordion, wind quintet and string quartet (2015)**  15’08”
• Raphaël Cendo: In Vivo for string quartet (2008-11)*  19’45”
Michał Pawełek: Ephreia for string quartet, wind quintet and electronics (2008, new version 2015)**  20’45”
• Alex Mincek: …it conceals within itself… for string trio and piano (2007)*  10’25”

CD5
• Johannes Schöllhorn: Niemandsland for ensemble (2009)*  19’56”
• Vito Žuraj: Re-slide for solo trombone and ensemble (2012, rev. 2015)**  14’39”
Szymon Stanisław Strzelec: L’Atelier de sensorité for amplified prepared cello and chamber orchestra (2015)**  9’55”
• Ragnild Berstad: Cardinem for large ensemble (2014)*  12’11”
• Giacinto Scelsi: Anahit for violin and 18 instruments (1965)  11’31”

CD6 ‘Young Composers’ Carte Blanche’ (prizewinners of the 6th Zygmunt Mycielski Composition Competition)
Dominik Lasota: Concerto for Eight Instruments (2015)**  11’11”
Fabian Rynkowicz: Chaos for ensemble (2015)**  7’39”
• Aruto Matsumoto: Reunion for ensemble (2015)**  9’06”
Marcin Piotr Łopacki: Musica concertante op.74 for ensemble (2015)**  10’07”
Aleksandra Chmielewska: Trans-4-mation for ensemble (2015)**  6’16”
Żaneta Rydzewska: MorE for ensemble (2015)**  11’19”

• New CD Note (Różycki/Hyperion)

034571280660In the last few of years of writing CD notes, I have unexpectedly been travelling back in time to Polish repertoire, little of which I knew.  It began back in 1998, with a note on Paderewski’s Symphony ‘Polonia’, followed by a CD of his major piano works.  But the trend has accelerated recently with notes on Zarębski (Piano Quintet – which I did know!), Żeleński (Piano Quartet, Piano Concerto), Zarzycki (Grande Polonaise, Piano Concerto), Dobrzyński (Overture to Monbar, Piano Concerto, Symphony no.2) and Scharwenka (Piano Concertos 1-4).  The world of the curious listener is forever indebted to the two UK companies – Hyperion and Chandos – that have made this and other neglected repertoire available.

Now I can add another name to the roster: Ludomir Różycki (concertante works for piano and orchestra), and there’s another CD in the pipeline of piano quintets by Różycki and Ignacy Friedman.  Różycki was part of the short-lived composer collective a few years into the 20th century – Młoda Polska w Muzyce (Young Poland in Music) – that also included Szymanowski.  But Różycki’s music rarely penetrated outside Poland and even within Poland he is known primarily for one score, the ballet Pan Twardowski (Mr Twardowski).  I saw this many moons ago, and it is a totally delightful and brilliantly characterised piece of Tchaikovskian whimsy, with the necessary dark undertow.  This new CD of Różycki’s music has many surprises as well as confirming him as a dyed-in-the-wool conservative with a clear lyrical gift.  The Second Piano Concerto in particular raises as many questions as it answers, probably as a consequence of the time and place of its composition (1941, Warsaw).

Here’s the link to my booklet note for Hyperion’s The Romantic Piano Concerto 67: Różycki, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• And here’s a little extra post – When was Różycki born? – that tries to shed some light on the mistaken belief (see major dictionaries) that Różycki was born in 1884, not 1883.

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