Album Review: "Polish Masterworks"
Polish Masterworks, Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta, conductor; Michael Ludwig, violin. Beau Fleuve Records, Buffalo, 2012
The words “Polish music” might conjure images of the polka or mazurka dances we’ve seen at weddings, but mention violinist and composer Henryk Wieniawski and even folks of Polish descent scratch their heads. Polish music goes well beyond the polka and you can hear a wonderful sampling from the past 150 years on Polish Masterworks, a CD featuring the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) under the direction of Maestro JoAnn Falletta.
Karol Szymanowski’s Concert Overture in E Major, op.12 is the recording’s first selection. Written in 1905, the overture betrays the youthful exuberance of its twenty-year old composer. The BPO successfully matches the wide-ranging orchestration with depth and sensitivity, especially in the idyllic intermezzo. Falletta achieves a masterful balance with all sections of the orchestra, although early parts of the piece would have been enhanced with better microphone placement. Szymanowski never declared a definite story line for the piece, but the finale is certainly reminiscent of the grandest Hollywood productions of the 1920s and 1930s.
The centerpiece of the recording is Violin Concerto no.2 in D Minor op. 22 by Henri Wieniawski (1862). Recorded live at Kleinhans Music Hall in November 2011, Falletta and violinist Michael Ludwig present Wieniawski’s expanded view of the German romantic tradition. The music is, at turns, softly romantic and fiery in the gypsy tradition, and built on a foundation of the beautiful strings that are the BPO’s trademark. Ludwig does produce a little too much vibrato in the early going but soon settles down to an absolutely lovely tone in the second, romantic movement. The final movement begins with a passacaglia statement in the lower registers, and the BPO shines in setting down the theme and maintaining a low, almost primeval cadence throughout; one can almost feel a Baltic storm brewing on the northern horizon.
The disc concludes with “A Sad Tale,” by Mieczyslaw Karlowicz (1909), a gloomy retelling not of a particular story, but of the historical condition that was to grip Poland again during World War II.
Polish music is clearly much more than an ethnic curiosity; it is a veritable driving force of serious music composition. With this recording, the BPO demonstrates extraordinary range in a truly unique collection—a collector’s must-have.