Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Review: Antoni Wit, Rafał Bartmiński and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir: Symphony No. 8, 'Polish Flowers'

Review: Antoni Wit, Rafał Bartmiński and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir: Symphony No. 8, 'Polish Flowers'

         Weinberg's 8th Symphony, Op. 83, represents a bold leap forward from his previous work in the genre, anticipating his later choral symphonies and much of the later symphonic trilogy, Having crossed the threshold of war. Parallels can be drawn to Shostakovich's 13th & 14th, and Stravinsky's works such as Oedipus Rex and Les Noces as well as works by Benjamin Britten. The music is moving towards Weinberg's later style, with several key strands later taken up in the opera The Passenger. The 8th symphony sets texts by the Polish poet Julian Tuwim, and is set in ten movements. However, the link given for libretti in the liner notes is currently not working. According to Richard Whitehouse's notes, the poetry is 'at once a history and a critque of Poland over the period between the two world wars' - without the English translation available, I'll have to take his word for it. I also take issue with several mistakes in Whitehouse's notes - especially when he erroneously describes the work being in 'twelve movements', before immediately examining the movements of the symphony, of which there are most definitely ten:

1. Gust of spring
2. Children of Bałuty
3. In front of the old hut
4. There was an orchard
5. Elderberry
6. Lesson
7. Warsaw Dogs
8. Mother
9. Justice
10. The Vistula flows

         The stand-out moments for me are the middle movements, 5-7. It is here where the subject matter really becomes defiant in attitude, especially mvt. 7, subtitled 'Warsaw dogs', where the history of the Polish people in the inter-war period is compared to humanity's track-record with the mistreatment of dogs. Weinberg deploys the most striking music of the work here, a combination of the drama of Verdi's requiem put with the rhythm and attack of Stravinsky. Its easy to make the jump from this material to Weinberg's commemorative works a few years later, the Requiem, Op. 96, and The Passenger, Op. 97.

         I cannot fault the quality of the recording. The choir and orchestra are in perfect balance, with great contrast achieved between the spine-tingling staccato quiet moments and the earth-shattering fury of the stormy movements (listen out for choral glissandi!). The percussion in the mix is particularly fine. The performances from Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra are really very excellent, with a keen eye for precision. Rafał Bartmiński as tenor makes for a moving soloist, joined by Magdalena Dobrowolska, soprano, and Ewa Marciniec, alto.

       My only issue is in the more exposed choral episodes. Following the score, several of these are made purposefully difficult, with string glissandi underneath them and clashing pitches in the woodwind accompaniment. These are understandably difficult with regards to accurate pitching. But in the 9th movement, the unaccompanied choir sustain a chord only to be joined by the organ below. Unfortunately, these moments are occasionally wince-inducing. I could almost understand if this were a live recording. But with a recording session of four days, I find it hard to believe that there wasn't time to get these moments right in performance.

     Not that these moments detract from the whole product - they just blemish what would otherwise be an excellent recording. I still whole-heartedly recommend this CD, the latest in a series released from Naxos. It certainly represents fantastic value for money - I paid less than £6 in my local CD shop - though that was admittedly with a student discount! For £6, you'd be hard-pushed to get a brand new Weinberg recording of such high quality.

         [The only previous recording I had of Symphony 8 was a terrible example of a poor vinyl to MP3 transfer (I think this youtube upload is from the same recording, though a better transfer than my own - but with no record of performers). As such, this new Naxos CD was a delight to behold.]

P.s. - here's a link to another review of the same album. Link (Rob Barnett,


N.B. - I'll update this post if the libretti link starts working, and once I've listened to the CD a few more times, with score.

No comments:

Post a Comment