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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Piano Works - Volume 4

Nine Preludes, Op. 1 (c.1896-1900) [18:58]
Variations in B flat minor, Op. 3 (1901-3) [11:11]
Mazurkas, Op. 50, Nos. 17-20 (1924-5) [10:15]
Two Mazurkas, Op. 62 (1933-34) [5:44]
Valse Romantique (1925) [3:43]
Piano Sonata No. 3 (1917) [18:58]
Martin Roscoe (piano)
Recorded in Potton Hall, Suffolk, 15-17 April 2003
NAXOS 8.557168 [68:51]

This fourth volume, which completes Martin Roscoe’s excellent recording of the complete piano works of Szymanowski, takes us from the very beginning of Szymanowski’s career as a composer to what was effectively its close. The Op. 1 collection of Nine Preludes includes two (the seventh and eighth) composed at the age of fourteen; the Op. 62 set of Two Mazurkas were Szymanowski’s last completed works.
 
The Nine Preludes are thoroughly Chopinesque. They have a good deal of the sheer beauty of sound that we associate with the young Szymanowski’s master, that lyrical clarity that is so distinctive. Most of the Preludes are slow and meditative pieces - with dramatic eruptions; their moods are quite various and they display an impressive melodic fertility in so young a composer.
 
The Variations in B flat minor were written at much the same time as the last of the Op. 1 Preludes, but are a little different in character. They are more classical in construction, displaying another side of the young composer’s talent. The theme – marked ‘andantino tranquillo e semplice’ – is followed by twelve very skilfully crafted variations, all very short and genuinely various. The third is a nostalgic mazurka and the ninth a delightful waltz, for example; the eighth is simplicity itself, the last densely textured and full of passion.
 
With the Third Piano Sonata we are no longer dealing with a young man’s work. This is substantial, fully mature music, encompassing a wide range of emotions and keyboard techniques. Though in a single long movement, it is clearly organised in a pretty close approximation to the kind of four ‘movements’ we might expect. The dynamism of the opening phase builds up to a resonant climax before giving way to exquisite lyricism in the slow ‘movement’; a brief scherzo introduces a formidable fugue, one of the great passages in Szymanowski’s writing for the piano and handled with exemplary clarity by Roscoe.
 
Op. 50 is made up 20 mazurkas, which were published in five sets of four; Roscoe here plays the last set and clearly enjoys the folk-inflected writing in these vigorous, yet slightly mysterious pieces.
 
The Valse Romantique was not published during Szymanowski’s lifetime and was only rediscovered in 1967. It has a charm which reminds one of Szymanowski’s enduring interest in the piano music of French impressionism.
 
The two mazurkas of Op. 62 are remarkable - the first especially, a fascinating, adventurous piece, in which residually Chopinesque elements are fused with the influence of Góral folk music from the Tatra mountains to create an idiosyncratic idiom which is very distinctively Szymanowski’s own. Peter Quinn’s booklet notes make mention of a surviving recording of the composer himself playing this piece – a recording I would love to hear!
 
This final volume of Martin Roscoe’s Szymanowski confirms his many virtues as a pianist – not least his intelligence and taste, his capacity to evoke both grand sonorities (in the later works) and a kind of salon-like sentiment (to which some of the earlier pieces approximate).
 
Anyone who already has the earlier volumes will surely want to complete the set; if you start here, be warned. The fascination of Szymanowski’s musical personality and Martin Roscoe’s convincing presentation of it are likely to involve you in further investment – though at Naxos’s very favourable prices.

Glyn Pursglove

see also reviews by William Kreindler, Kevin Sutton and Patrick C Waller
 

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