The first of these two generously packed discs
(the concerti plus Baird and Gorecki) is an identical coupling
to EMI's Matrix series 19 (CDM 5 65418 1). The other disc rescues
from vinyl oblivion the final shreds of a three LP set issued
by EMI in 1982 - the centenary of Szymanowski's birth. That LP
set (SLS 5242) was with entirely Polish forces: Kasprzyk, Semkow
and Wit, Polish Radio orchestras and choirs from Warsaw and Krakow.
EMI mined from this source two of the invaluable
if unprepossessingly presented Matrix series discs: 10 (CDM5 65082
2) and 15 (CDM5 65418 2). Volume 10 had the Second and Third symphonies
and the volcanically orgasmic Concert Overture with which
Simon Rattle made such an impression in his early days with the
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Matrix also had Harnasie
(a glorious work, mark you!) and the Sinfonia Concertante for
piano and orchestra.
The Violin Concertos are played here with
fierily hieratic possession. These are plants of hothouse ecstasy
with the First Concerto lost in a Klimt-like dazzle of stars.
Kulka's sweet and steady tone sings and glistens through an orchestral
web borne of Stravinsky's Firebird and with several incidences
of a rhythmic cell uncannily close to Saint-Saens Havanaise
(try 18.02). The Second Concerto is somewhat more congested with
stronger infusions of the highlands exaltation that characterises
Harnasie. Both concertos were written for the violinist
Pavel Kochanski. The First is an extremely appealing piece which
would be a natural next step for anyone wooed over by the Prokofiev
No. 1. The Second for much of the time sounds rather as if it
belongs to a Polish Lark Ascending or Flos Campi.
There is a lovely depth to the 1978 analogue recording - listen
to 12.03. These recordings can be enjoyed alongside the Chantal
Juillet pairing on Decca (another twofer with symphonies 2 and
3 conducted by Dorati), and Oistrakh's recording of No. 1. The
Danczowska pairing on Polish CD Accord is warmer and sultry
both in interpretation and recording. I have not heard the Zehetmair
(EMI Rattle) or the Mordkovich Chandos couplings although
both have been well reviewed by others. Recently I have been able
to hear the superbly tense, fiery-ripe and fervent recordings
that Wanda Wilkomirska made between 1960 and 1968 with the Warsaw
Philharmonic conducted by Witold Rowicki. This disc was from a
magnificent boxed set of Szymanowski works conducted by Witold
Rowicki during the 1960s (LYS 554-556).
The second disc mops up the remaining choral
and orchestral items from the EMI box. The faintly oriental Mandragora
is by no means quite as negligible as the notes suggest
... that is until we get to the Neapolitan parody aria at 7.19
(Bellini would have loved this). When you have recovered from
this the work has some characteristically original moments including
the violent abrasion of the stormy helter-skelter rush at 10.24.
Of course Mandragora is bound to sound
negligible when shoulder to shoulder with the Stabat Mater.
This work was written in 1925-26 after the completion of the opera
King Roger. With its grippingly sustained writing, solo
violin line, and suitably sombre approach the work instantly commands
attention. The highlight is, I think, the silvery plainchant of
the Fac me tecum (tr. 5) although the cloud of sprechgesang
invocations by the choir in the Virgo virginum impresses
by its parallels with Holst's Hymn of Jesus. The same movement's
flute invokes the ‘high hills’ ecstatic theme that exalts in Harnasie
and the exotic-erotic Third Symphony. Again making comparisons
I prefer the Rowicki set which also sports Hiolski in much better
voice. Rowicki is much tighter and demonstrates a grip and magic
which does not exist in the same degree with the Wit version ...
and this despite its much more recent provenance.
Gadulanka is the solo in the Litania.
Her voice is not as wondrously steady as that of Stefania Woytowicz
on the Lys version (the same 3CD box). Demeter is
another well sustained piece of highly perfumed diaphanous exotica
related to settings by Chausson but far more impressionistic-ecstatic
- almost a sketch for King Roger and the Third Symphony.
Again Rappé cannot attain the steady glowing light that
Woytowicz brought to this piece in the 1960s.
The Lys set, issued in 1999, has been deleted
but if you see it in a secondhand shop (I got mine from Hancock
and Monks - look them up on the internet using google or yahoo)
or perhaps on e-bay it's an opportunity not to be passed up!
Almost 25 minutes of Gorecki and Baird
fill out the first disc. The Gorecki arises from Gorecki's
studies of the folk music of the Tatra mountains and of early
Polish church music. The first and last of the three movements
have the steadily breathing calm of the phenomenally successful
Third Symphony of thirteen years later while the second has a
Holstian muscular vigour (Brook Green and St Paul's).
Baird's suite for flute and strings is in six micro-movements.
You might possibly have heard some Baird during the 1960s and
think of him as a master purveyor of the twelve-tone calling.
In fact since this suite dates from 1951 when Baird was an adherent
of neo-classical sympathies the music is closer to Gorecki's without
his very individual edginess. This is more like Holst meets Stravinsky
without the acidic content. Baird's writing in the Molto moderato
(tr.10) with its cleverly terraced pizzicato effects and antique
perfumed lyricism will summon up thoughts of Warlock's Capriol.
Harmonies are a mite bland although in the Molto adagio it
is clear that Baird is looking towards Schoenberg and we can even
detect the same subsumed sweetness we find in Panufnik's sustained
massed string writing as in the Sacra and Elegiaca.
And by the way this is the same Colas Breugnon that inspired
an opera from Dmitri Kabalevsky. Breugnon's sunnily optimistic
mindset is reflected in the flute's role in three of the six movements.
Three movements are for flute and strings; three for strings alone.
There is nothing to spook the horses here.
The sung words are not included in the notes.
For all of my allegiance to the Rowicki set this
generous and extremely inexpensive coupling is well worth getting.
It is a good grounding in the Szymanowski of the concertos and
choral works and will open the eyes, ears and mind to two ‘significant
others’ from the Polish insurgency of the 1960s.