• (2009) Karłowicz: Violin Concerto
Mieczysław Karłowicz: Violin Concerto
programme note written for
Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra, cond. Jacek Kaspszyk
Cadogan Hall, London, 30 April 2009
1. Allegro moderato
2. Andante (Romanza)
3. Vivace assai.
The loss of Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876-1909) in an avalanche in his beloved Tatras on 8 February 1909, when he was only 32, robbed Polish music of one of its greatest creative talents. He was not only a composer, but also a photographer of calibre, especially of the mountains. In the century since his death, his music has until recently remained virtually unknown and rarely performed outside Poland. Prime movers in bringing Karłowicz to the public’s attention in this country have been UK recording companies in collaboration with BBC orchestras, including Chandos which, with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded several acclaimed CDs (2001-05) of Karłowicz’s Symphony and symphonic poems. In 2003, on the Hyperion label, tonight’s soloist Tasmin Little recorded the Violin Concerto with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
The Violin Concerto is probably Karłowicz’s best-known large-scale work, and over ten different interpretations have been issued on CD (almost entirely in Poland), ranging from Wanda Wiłkomirska’s recording under Rowicki (1963) to Nigel Kennedy’s recent version (2007) and an unusual jazz reworking by Konstanty Kulka and the Włodzimierz Nahorny group (2001). The Concerto is also one of Karłowicz’s earliest compositions, following closely on the heels of the Symphony (1900-02), with its heavyweight philosophical programme. In contrast, the Concerto, written later in 1902, is the sunniest of all his works. Much of its character stems from its stylistic closeness to Tchaikowsky. This is particularly apparent in its lyrical aspects, which in other works were more darkly hued. In the Concerto, a gem of late-romantic music, the lyrical and the virtuosic combine to create a work of great charm and persuasion.
The first movement begins with a short rousing tutti, to which the soloist replies by introducing the first subject (traditionally, the orchestra would have done this). Soon this gives way to one of Polish music’s most affecting themes, again played by the soloist. It is an example of Karłowicz’s concision and command of expressive transformation that the upbeat of this second subject is derived from the very opening of the movement. A further structural surprise is the placing of the brief cadenza not near the end of the movement but between the development and recapitulation.
The ‘Romanza’ follows without a break, linked, like Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, by sustained notes in the orchestra. The intensity of Karłowicz’s lyrical gifts is again apparent, as the soloist builds the main melody on the resonant lowest string before allowing it to soar aloft as it gathers expressive momentum. The motif of a brief turbulent outburst is then combined with the main melody as the movement winds its way to a calm close.
The finale is a vivacious rondo in 6/8. The returning theme is given to the violin, which dances exuberantly in its upper registers. There are contrasting episodes (especially the central one where a deeply lyrical theme is announced by the cellos), but the overwhelming impression is one of sheer joy. Karłowicz caps the movement, and the work, by recalling the main theme from the first movement.
© 2009 Adrian Thomas