Olszytn Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra / Janusz Przybylski

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Grunwald Review

by James Manheim

The Battle of Grunwald in 1410, in which a coalition of Polish and Lithuanian forces led by the brilliant king Jogaila defeated the Teutonic Knights, is a key event in Polish history. What's striking is that its musical resonances have lasted until the present day; the story of the battle has been overlaid with nationalistic legends, and the creators of the present album, which might be described as nationalistic itself, had to leave several relevant works unincluded. The notes by Krzysztof D. Szatrawski describe a work conducted by Ignacy Paderewski, leading a choir of 600, at the dedication of a Grunwald monument in 1910; this would doubtless be worth exhuming sometime. Three of the five works here were composed for the 600th anniversary of the battle in 2010, and there also exist similar compositions that were not included. Would anything like this be conceivable in British or American music? Striking, too, is the overall stylistic consistency; the final three works, which are all contemporary, are more modern in idiom than Jan Adam Maklakiewicz's Poemat Symfoniczny "Grunwald," which was composed during World War II, but not by much. Much of the music, heard cold without any guidance as to context, could pass for film music in a late-Romantic, large-orchestra idiom. The most original and perhaps most effective work is the three-movement Grunwald 1410 by Romuald Twardowski, with each movement built around an intoned Latin text (given in the booklet but not translated). The performances of these gigantic scores by the Symphony Orchestra of the Warmia-Masuria Philharmonic under Janusz Przybylski are impressive, but the distinctiveness of the music remains a bit obscure to non-Polish ears. The sound engineers of the Dux label achieve good transparency and separation.

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