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Hyperion Records

CDA67389 - Moszkowski & Karlowicz: Violin Concertos

Recording details: September 2003
Caird Hall, Dundee, Scotland
Produced by Nicholas Parker
Engineered by Mike Hatch
Release date: April 2004
Total duration: 72 minutes 33 seconds

'Tasmin Little's idiomatic advocacy of all three works belies the fact that none could be described as standard repertoire … handsomely produced and well recorded, this issue makes three very welcome additions to the repertoire' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Tasmin Little's flamboyant performance of this breathtaking display piece should be counted a jewel in her already distinguished discography' (International Record Review)

'This disc is yet another jewel in Hyperion's star-studded crown … enjoyable from start to finish—a disc well worth having' (The Strad)

'One of my discs of the year' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Tasmin Little displays an invitingly warm, slender tone and broad dynamic range, very much in keeping with the style of this music. Her intonation and bowing are impeccable: the considerable difficulties of Moszkowski's finale hold no terrors for her' (Fanfare, USA)

'This disc is the most impressive installment in Hyperion's Romantic Concerto Series; superb and most beautifully recorded and played' (MusicWeb International)

The Romantic Violin Concerto
Moszkowski & Karłowicz: Violin Concertos
Allegro moderato  [12'26]
Romanza: Andante  [7'37]
Vivace assai  [6'53]
Allegro comodo  [15'20]
Andante  [11'38]
Vivace  [7'14]

Hyperion’s Record of the Month for April is the fourth volume in the burgeoning ‘Romantic Violin Concerto’ series. The central work on the disc is Moritz Moszkowski’s C major Violin Concerto, a full-blooded Romantic work which demands exceptional virtuosity. An increasing number of recordings, many on the Hyperion label, of this composer’s music have done much to lift his reputation beyond that of the ‘trifling miniaturist’, and the Ballade in G minor amply demonstrates how even a small canvas can aspire to advanced heights of pyrotechnic wizardry.

How much better known might Mieczyslaw Karlowicz have become had he not been struck down in his prime by an avalanche. What works do survive place Karlowicz firmly alongside the ‘progressive neo-Romantics’—with Wagner and Richard Strauss at their head—and his reputation today is largely based on a set of six symphonic poems composed in the last few years of his life. The Violin Concerto dates from the same period. Karlowicz places considerable demands on the soloist as he exploits the instrument’s full potential but, as with Moszkowski’s Concerto, the required virtuosity never seems superfluous.

Martyn Brabbins again leads the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, this time in support of Tasmin Little, whose twenty or so recordings and innumerable worldwide concert appearances have won for her an enviable reputation as one of today’s leading violinists. This is her first recording for Hyperion.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Moritz Moszkowski is scarcely a familiar name today, although there are perhaps a few among us of a certain age who may have fading recollections of him as the composer of such piano pieces as Serenata, Guitarre or Valse Mignonne—lighter salon music with a prerequisite for melody—or, of course, the Spanish Dances for piano duet, copies of which would have been found in most piano stools throughout the civilized world and beyond, before the onset of later twentieth-century distractions. During the past few years, however, and thanks to the dedication and enthusiasm of certain performers together with the support of enterprising record companies, we have been given a unique opportunity to rediscover a whole new world of such forgotten repertoire—forgotten to a large extent due to changes in fashion and ensuing unjust prejudices.

Born in 1854 in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland, but then the capital of the East Prussian province of Silesia), Moszkowski’s natural musical talent was soon evident, both at the piano and as a composer, and he produced a piano quintet at the age of thirteen. His serious musical studies commenced in Dresden, then from 1869 continued in Berlin, firstly at Julius Stern’s Conservatory, and finally at Theodor Kullak’s ‘Neue Akademie der Tonkunst’, where while still aged only seventeen he accepted Kullak’s invitation to join his teaching staff. After a successful pianistic debut in Berlin in 1873, he toured extensively throughout Europe while still fulfilling his teaching duties; but during the early 1880s he began to suffer from a nervous disorder which restricted his performing activities, although this enabled him to concentrate more on composition. He also began to gain recognition as a conductor and as such in 1885 made the first of several visits to England, to conduct a performance of his symphonic poem Joan of Arc Op 19, at the invitation of the Philharmonic Society, which later granted him an honorary life membership.

In 1897 Moszkowski settled permanently in Paris, having married Henriette Chaminade, the younger sister of Cécile, the composer of the celebrated Automne. He had become much sought-after as a teacher and among his many pupils were Josef Hofmann and Wanda Landowska. Furthermore, in 1904 a young Thomas Beecham came to Moszkowski to study orchestration, at the suggestion of Massenet.

From about 1910, however, Moszkowski’s fortunes went into decline with the loss of his wife and daughter, and his once considerable popularity as a composer decreased as musical tastes began to change. In an artistic world in which he increasingly felt out of touch, Moszkowski virtually ceased composing and became a recluse, by then constantly affected by ill health. His last years were spent in poverty, as he had invested his considerable wealth in German and Russian securities, which were rendered worthless after the outbreak of war in 1914. He died in Paris from stomach cancer on 4 March 1925, all but forgotten.

Mendelssohn, Chopin and Schumann all influenced Moszkowski to some degree, especially in the earlier pieces, and he of course established his reputation with his piano music. But he did achieve some early success with a number of orchestral works. The first edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1880) has a short entry for Moszkowski and mentions a piano concerto and two symphonies in manuscript; similarly J D Brown’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, published in 1886, has Moszkowski’s own autobiographical entry which mentions the same works, as well as an overture. However, none of these was published and unfortunately all must at present be considered lost. We do know that the aforementioned piano concerto was performed in Berlin in 1875 and was praised by Liszt, who subsequently arranged and took part in a two-piano performance, but this work must not be confused with the later E major concerto Op 59, which appeared in 1897 (and which is recorded on Hyperion, CDA66452). Moszkowski was a more-than-competent violinist, and the American Amy Fay, in her entertaining book of memoirs Music Study in Germany (1885), notes him as playing first violin in the academy orchestra.

The Ballade in G minor for violin and orchestra Op 16 No 1 was originally composed for violin and piano during the early 1870s (it was published with a companion piece, a Bolero Op 16 No 2). Subsequently Moszkowski orchestrated the Ballade (but not the Bolero), and as such it would appear to be his earliest surviving orchestral work (the famous Spanish Dances Op 12 appeared earlier, but were in fact orchestrated by Philipp Scharwenka and Valentin Frank, the original version being for piano duet). The Ballade was dedicated to Gustav Hille (born 1851), a German violinist and minor composer who was one of Moszkowski’s fellow students at Kullak’s Academy, and although intended as a virtuoso display vehicle it also reflects Moszkowski’s natural gift for melody.

The opening is marked Andante con moto, and the orchestra sets the scene with a brief introduction before accompanying the soloist who enters with a lilting theme, the basic rhythmic make-up of which is used extensively throughout. A short quasi-cadenza then leads directly into the second part—Tempo animato (quasi allegro)—where the tension is gradually built up with increasing momentum as the work heads towards its main fortissimo climax. The short coda then fades away to a molto tranquillo conclusion. It is interesting to note that there are several differences from the original violin and piano version, where Moszkowski had written a completely different bravura ending, perhaps more suitable for the salon work as it was originally conceived. Later editions show that he had second thoughts about this, bringing the piano reduction into line with the orchestral score. Overall, the Ballade is typical of Moszkowski’s affable and eclectic style, and although it is to some extent limited in its emotional range it provides more than enough interest and enjoyment for the listener with its contrasts in texture and colourful orchestration.

The Violin Concerto in C major Op 30 appeared nearly ten years after the Ballade, and was dedicated to the famous French violinist Emile Sauret, who gave the first perfomance in Berlin in 1883. Cast in the usual three movements, it is a substantial full-blooded romantic work in every aspect, demanding exceptional virtuosity, but never for its own sake, and always subservient to the musical content. The first movement—Allegro comodo—is of considerable length but basically adheres to convention, and also serves as ample confirmation of Moszkowski’s ability and confidence in developing a coherent large-scale structure, thus belying his unjust reputation as being merely a competent composer of salon trifles. Set in compound time, four in a bar, graceful dotted dance-like rhythms abound, which bear some similarity to the figurations used in the Ballade, alternating brilliant passagework with the introduction of syncopation and the appearance of the second subject. Moszkowski all but dispenses with the traditional cadenza, instead introducing three short improvisatory passages for the soloist, the last one of which appears before the recapitulation.

The second movement—Andante—is one of Moszkowski’s most inspired movements, introducing a lyrical main theme of uncommon beauty which contrasts with the following build-up in intensity and emotion. As the orchestra restates the opening theme, the soloist floats above, molto espressivo, in rhapsodic vein before the movement dies peacefully away.

The finale—Vivace—is the soloist’s tour de force, entering with a breathless 38-bar perpetuum mobile. The momentum is sustained and only briefly interrupted by a more lyrical counter-theme, which in turn gives way to a gypsy-like dance before the brilliant coda brings the work to a most exhilarating and exciting end.

Born a generation after Moszkowski, Mieczyslaw Karlowicz inhabited a much-changing musical world. Had it not been for his tragic premature death in 1909 he would conceivably have played a major role in the development of music in Poland during the first half of the twentieth century, alongside Karol Szymanowski, Ludomir Rózycki and Grzegorz Fitelberg, who in turn were the mainstays of the ‘Young Poland in Music Publishing Group’.

Karlowicz was born on 11 December 1876 at Wiszniew, east of Wilno (now Vilnius), the capital of Lithuania, which was at that time under Russian jurisdiction. His father, Jan Karlowicz (1836–1903), was an educated man—a distinguished linguist and ethnologist as well as a musician who had published articles on Polish folk music and had composed some songs and minor piano pieces. Mieczyslaw, the youngest of four children, commenced his musical education in Heidelberg, where he received his first violin lessons after the family had left Lithuania in 1882. Eventually, in 1887, having spent five years travelling in Europe with some time in Dresden and Prague, the Karlowicz family finally settled in Warsaw, where Mieczyslaw continued with his violin studies under the tutelage of Stanislaw Barcewicz (1858–1929), a celebrated virtuoso. Although Mieczyslaw achieved moderate success as a performer he was never particularly comfortable before the public, and whilst Barcewicz acknowledged his technical ability he felt that his temperament was not in accordance with that required of a virtuoso.

Karlowicz’s first works dated from 1891—he had taken lessons in harmony the previous year—but these early attempts were apparently of little consequence (several songs and short pieces for violin and piano); they remained unpublished and were destroyed during the bombing of Warsaw in 1939. His earliest surviving composition is a short piano piece entitled Chant de Mai, dating from 1893.

Poland as a political entity had ceased to exist after 1795, when its territories were split and divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria. The two abortive armed insurrections of 1830 and 1863 were followed by ruthless repression and persecution from the authorities, which resulted in a general stagnation and decay, both economic and on an artistic level. Thus gradually during the nineteenth century Warsaw had become a provincial backwater, barely influenced by intellectual developments which had been taking place elsewhere across Europe. Against such a background Karlowicz had decided to progress his musical education abroad, and after giving up the idea of being a performer he concentrated his efforts on composition, and moved to Berlin in 1895 where he studied with Heinrich Urban (1837–1901). Coming into contact with the latest musical ideology, Karlowicz firmly sided with the progressive neo-romantics—followers of Wagner as represented by such figures as Richard Strauss, against the opposing classical conservatism of Brahms and his supporters.

Aside from Strauss, Karlowicz was also drawn to the music of Bruckner, Tchaikovsky and Grieg, but he was uncompromisingly dismissive of many others, even including such classical masters as Beethoven. Karlowicz’s own compositions from his student days in Berlin included a number of songs, most of which were published as his Opp 1, 3 and 4, a Serenade for strings Op 2 (1897), and Biala Golábka (Bianca da Molena) Op 6 – a ‘Symphonic Prologue and Intermezzo’ to Nowinski’s drama The White Dove. He also started work on his Symphony in E minor ‘Rebirth’ Op 7 in 1900, which was completed in Warsaw in 1902.

Having returned to Warsaw in 1901, he involved himself in various musical activities, but he was constantly at odds with the rather reactionary Polish musical establishment which was trying to reassert itself; it was only in 1901 that a permanent symphony orchestra, the Philharmonia, was founded, under the directorship of the composer, violinist and conductor Emil Mlynarski (1870–1935). Among other things, Karlowicz was concerned that very little Polish music was being programmed, and after a dispute with Mlynarski he refused any offer of having his own works performed in protest. Thus he had to arrange and promote his own concerts. It was such an event on 21 March 1903 in Berlin that saw the first performance of his symphony, together with the music for The White Dove, and his latest work to date, the Violin Concerto in A major Op 8.

Karlowicz’s enduring reputation as a composer, however, rests firmly with the next (and unfortunately, last) works he produced, between 1903 and 1909—namely the six symphonic poems, the last of which was completed by Fitelberg in 1913 from unfinished sketches.

Due to the ongoing problems in Warsaw, Karlowicz was anxious to leave again and so travelled extensively in Europe. In 1906 he visited Paris, and then spent the winter in Leipzig, where he was able to study conducting at Artur Nikisch’s rehearsals. In the summer months he moved to Zakopane, in the Polish Highlands, and he eventually made this his permanent home, preferring the lonely solitude and remote beauty of the Tatra Mountains, where he was able to pursue his other interests—walking, cycling, skiing and photography. It was while out skiing that he was killed by an avalanche on 8 February 1909.

The appearance of the Violin Concerto in 1902 marks a turning point in Karlowicz’s creativity, with his preceding output, the symphony included, being considered as ‘student’ works. During the spring of 1902 Karlowicz had approached his former violin teacher, Barcewicz, asking if he would take part in his forthcoming Berlin debut concert in March 1903, although at that time he had not yet actually written the concerto. The invitation, however, was duly accepted and the work was completed in December 1902, with a dedication to Barcewicz.

The Violin Concerto follows tradition in its three-movement format, yet it reflects the composer’s newly acquired confidence. Tchaikovsky’s influence predominates, and is obvious from the very beginning with its suggestion of the opening bars of the Russian’s famous B flat minor Piano Concerto (albeit here with the motif in reverse). After the short opening statement from the orchestra the soloist boldly presents the main theme, unaccompanied, which is subsequently taken up by the orchestra, before the appearance of the second subject, contrasting in its lyrical simplicity. As one might expect, Karlowicz makes considerable demands of the soloist as he exploits the instrument’s full potential, but as with Moszkowski’s concerto the required virtuosity never seems superfluous, even in the cadenza, which he places before the recapitulation.

The second movement Romanza, which follows without a break, is in ternary form and is characterized by a gentle contemplative lyricism, which then makes way for the lead up to the more agitated central climax, before an almost ethereal calm is restored. The finale—Vivace assai—follows the classic rondo form but almost could qualify as a scherzo, such is the lightness in texture of the soloist’s fleeting passagework, complemented by a corresponding delicate subtlety in the orchestration. It is the second counter-theme that here provides a contrasting lyrical episode before the return of the movement’s opening material leads us into the coda. Here the first movement’s main theme is momentarily reintroduced before a final flourish brings about an affirmative conclusion.

Martin Eastick © 2004

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