Moniuszko: Overtures / Wit, Warsaw

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MONIUSZKO Fairy Tale Overture. Overtures to: Paria; Halka; Verbum nobile; The Raftsman; The Countess; The Haunted Manor; Jawnuta; The New Don Quixote; The Hetman’s Mistress Antoni Wit, cond; Warsaw P O NAXOS 8.572716 (79:26)

Stanis?aw Moniuszko (1819–1872) is a musical descendent of Weber and Donizetti, with some clear influences of both heard in his operas. He was Poland’s leading operatic composer in the 19th century, and his works deserve more exposure than they get in today’s “masterpiece” driven climate. This collection of overtures is the most generous one we have been given on disc, and probably the finest. One hears influences of Weber, Donizetti, Rossini, and even early Wagner and Verdi in this music, but it would be too easy, and wrong, to write Moniuszko off as a cheap imitator. His voice may not be so strong as to be easily identifiable, but this is attractive music that demonstrates both inspiration and craft.

An Olympia CD (OCD 386) features recordings from the 1950s and 60s conducted by Fitelberg, Krenz, and Rowicki. These are exciting performances, but unevenly played by a variety of Polish orchestras, and with variable recorded sound. In the 1990s Robert Satanowsky led a collection with the Pomeranian Philharmonic on CPO (999 113) and Roland Bader and the Cracow Philharmonic gave us a similar grouping on Koch Schwann (3-1444-2). Both were adequate, neither was outstanding.

It is unlikely that any collector needs duplicate collections of Moniuszko overtures, and it would be difficult to recommend replacing one of those CDs with this one if you own and are satisfied with an earlier collection. If you don’t have one, or if you consider yourself a Moniuszko fanatic, then this would be the place to go. Although it would be difficult to make the case that Wit was a uniquely great interpreter, he does in fact bring more life and personality to these than was the case with Bader and Satanowski. (I’ll eliminate the Olympia collection from consideration because of its variable engineering standards). The lilt in the dance music at the center of The Countess , the tension created by careful dynamic shadings in The Haunted Manor , the wit present in The New Don Quixote are all qualities communicated clearly and with natural spontaneity in these performances. There is a lovely grace and elegance to much of this music, and Wit captures it with a lighter touch than others. The Warsaw Philharmonic is a front rank orchestra, and this music is in their blood.

Naxos’s generosity brings 25 more minutes of music than the Koch Schwann CD, and 13 more than the CPO disc. The accompanying notes provide helpful context for each of the overtures by summarizing briefly the operas’ stories. The recorded sound is a bit on the reverberant side, lacking ideal clarity of texture, but not seriously problematic. In sum, this is a delight.

FANFARE: Henry Fogel

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8572716

  • UPC: 747313271672

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Stanislaw Moniuszko

  • Conductor: Antoni Wit

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra