NOWOWIEJSKI Folk Paintings (Perłowski)
Feliks Nowowiejski was a Polish composer, born in Wartenburg (now Barczewo) in East Prussia in 1877. Having studied composition with Max Bruch he went on to become a composition teacher and was choir director at St Hedwig’s Cathedral in Berlin until moving to Kraków in 1909. His reputation as a composer was established by his oratorio Quo vadis?, based on the biblical novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz. Despite returning to Berlin for service in 1914, conducting a military orchestra, his pro-Polish stance in his works and as an orator caused a falling out with Bruch, who instigated a German boycott of Nowowiejski’s music, since when his music fell into obscurity.
There are a few recordings out there, most noticeably of Quo vadis? and his organ symphonies (he wrote nine of them). Nowowiejski also composed ballets and Warner has stepped up to offer these two new releases of rediscovered scores, both recorded by the Sinfonia Varsovia under Sebastian Perowski. Król Wichrów (‘King of the Winds’) is a fantasy-ballet set in Poland’s Tatra Mountains, premiered in 1929. Leluja and Perowic are shepherds about to be married but they are thwarted, firstly by a Count who (just as in Le nozze di Figaro) tries to assert his droit de seigneur, and then by the King of the Winds, who has the hots for the shepherd girl. They are defeated, partly with the aid of a vengeful Queen of the Night, and the ballet includes appearances by an Enchanted Flower, a Forest Demon and a Fire Dragon. The booklet includes a detailed synopsis. At 106 minutes, Król Wichrów sometimes feels too long for its material. Nowowiejski’s style was rather conservative but it’s tuneful and obviously folk-inspired; I’d liken it to Dvořák with a Polish accent. Leitmotifs are repeated a little too often and there are a few choral moments, dispatched resoundingly by the Polish Radio Choir.
The second release contains the opera-ballet Malowanki ludowe (‘Folk Paintings’), first staged in 1928. There is no real narrative here, merely six tableaux of music for wedding customs of the Kujawy region. There are plenty of folk dances here, energetically played by the Sinfonia Varsovia. The obertas dances in the penultimate tableau are particularly lively, guaranteed to get toes tapping and – traditionally for a Polish wedding – vodka flowing. Perowski keeps a taut rein over tempos. These ballets may be enough to launch readers into exploring more of Nowowiejski’s work.