Violin Concerto; Rebirth Symphony
Alena Baeva (violin); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Grzegorz Nowak
Frederick Chopin Institute NIFCCD 067 71:10 mins
The composer most representative of the ideals of the Young Poland artistic movement, Mieczysław Karłowicz died tragically at the age of 32 in a 1909 avalanche in his beloved Tatra mountains. He had settled at the foot of the Tatras in Zakopane in 1907, eager equally to shake off the conservatism of Warsaw’s musical establishment and to indulge his non-musical passions of photography, skiing and mountaineering. It was there that he wrote his greatest tone poems, the works on which his reputation really rests, but his earlier output also includes an important Violin Concerto and a symphony, Rebirth.
Captured live at Warsaw’s ‘Chopin and His Europe’ festival in 2018 with the visiting Royal Philharmonic, these recordings include an especially attractive performance of the Violin Concerto, a score almost contemporaneous with the Sibelius and Elgar concertos. It’s not quite so path-breaking as either, harking back to the traditional Romantic concerto mould, but, with both the RPO under their Polish associate conductor Grzegorz Nowak and the soloist Alena Baeva on bold form from the start, this is a compelling interpretation. Baeva brings sweetness of tone to the rhapsodic passages, and the slow movement flows hauntingly before the finale takes off with exciting virtuosity.
Hovering somewhere between Tchaikovsky and Wagner, with its semi-Nietzschean programme Rebirth requires a conductor able to shape things with dramatic sweep. Nowak delivers that, and the transition from Scherzo to Finale is deftly handled: along with passionate playing, a feeling of momentum is essential to this work’s full impact.