Ilya Kaler / Antoni Wit / Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra

Mieczyslaw Karlowicz: Serenade, Op. 2; Violin Concerto, Op. 8

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Of the tragic composer deaths on record, the cake for most unusual may be taken by that of Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, who was caught in an avalanche while on a ski trip in the Tatra Mountains. He was of the increasingly often performed Polish generation that came of age in the late 19th century, and he wrote several symphonic poems that were, like Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra, influenced by the writings of Nietzsche. Strauss was but one influence on his music; the two works here take Tchaikovsky as a model, and it was partly these multiple derivations that caused Karlowicz to fall into obscurity after World War I. Yet he doesn't ape his models, and he's worth another listen. The youthful Serenade, Op. 2, marries an attractive concision to a sort of fin de siècle nervousness that emerges over the course of the piece, as if the opening march can't quite put its confidence across. Sample the tripartite Waltz movement (track 3). The Violin Concerto in A major, Op. 8, carries less of Karlowicz's distinctive personality but is an entirely assured handling of the idiom of Tchaikovsky's concerto, with some lovely melodies, all contained in a slightly smaller framework ideal for presenters or players who might want to offer a concerto as an opener. Russian-born violinist Ilya Kaler is equal to its considerable technical demands, and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under Antoni Wit adds to its strong series of performances on the Naxos label. These works are not as distinctive as the others by Karlowicz that have lately appeared, but they're certainly of interest to Polish music lovers.

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