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Ludomir Michał ROGOWSKI (1881-1954)
Eighteen Songs [44:09]
Fantasmagories – a Vocalise Cycle for Mezzo Soprano and Orchestra [15:18]
Izabela Kopeć (mezzo-soprano)
Ewa Pelwecka (piano) Michał Lisiewicz (violin)
The Orchestra of The Grand Theatre-National Opera, Warsaw/Łukasz Borowicz
rec. The Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, dates not given
DUX 1400/1401 [44:09 + 15:18]

This is a truly superb issue, but there is one thing about it that I find strange: its total playing time is a few seconds under 60 minutes, but its contents, assorted songs and a vocalise-cycle, have been spread over 2 CDs – although the issue is available for the price of one CD. The second disk, lasting 15 minutes, has that rarest of musical animals, a vocalise song cycle, which differs from the assorted songs on the first disk in that it has a chamber orchestral accompaniment, whereas the songs are accompanied by piano and occasionally piano and violin.

The packaging can be described only as lavish: a cardboard box containing the CDs, each of which is encased in a printed cardboard sleeve with different images on each sleeve, a 3mm thick booklet with many photos, illustrations, and biographical and artistic details of the composer, mezzo-soprano, pianist, violinist, conductor and orchestra, together with song texts and translations for the first CD, and descriptions of the Hindu inspiration for each vocalise.

Once again, we must be grateful to Dux for its efforts to acquaint us with the forgotten compositional glories of Poland’s early 20th Century Poland. The company only recently issued a magnificent recording of Felix Nowowiejsky’s ‘Quo Vadis’ (review). They also list the only commercial recording of Szymanowski’s early opera ‘Hagith’, available as a DVD, but not as a CD, alas.

The short, second CD contains five vocalises form the cycle ‘Fantasmagories’ (1920), in which the composer uses alternating tones and semitones and a whole-tone scale to create an exotically coloured orchestration. The orchestral and vocal sounds - the voice being used as another sound-factor in the mix - represent the stories of the Hindu gods Krishna, Maya, Agni, Ganesh and Kama. Although the religious background is different, their sound world is comparable to the orchestrally accompanied ‘Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin’ by Szymanowski (1918). Perhaps Szymanowski gives us a more austere setting, and, for all I know, a more authentic representation of North African melodic patterns than Rogowsky does for Indian ones, but if you like those songs then you will probably like these.

The presence of conductor Łukasz Borowicz is very welcome, given his commitment to Polish music of this era, for example, CPO’s wonderful recording of Nowowiejsky’s ‘Quo Vadis’, which he conducts (review).

I should point out that the mezzo-soprano, Izabela Kopeć has done several years’ research into the forgotten music of Rogowski and her research will contribute to her PhD thesis. The songs exist in manuscript only and have been unearthed by Ms Kopeć from various archives; it is her sterling efforts that have led to the production of this recording. She has a lovely, expressive voice which fits the music perfectly.

All eighteen songs are tonal and only a handful are accompanied by the violin. They were composed over a period of fifty years, and the six sung in French form two short sets dating from 1917 and 1926. Over the years, Rogowsky lived in many places - Poland, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, France and Croatia – and his compositional style displays the influences of the country where he was living: Paris and the French Riviera are particularly noticeable. I do not detect any neo-classical influences in the music, but one can at times hear Debussy and impressionistic elements filtering in. I particularly warm to the last three songs on the disk: sung in French, they are a 1926 setting of poems by the 18th Century Chinese poet Yuan Tseu-Ts’ai.

I enthusiastically recommend these delectable disks.

Jim Westhead

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