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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Piano Works Volume 4

Nine Preludes Op.1 (c.1896) [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 (1933-4) [5:44]
Valse Romantique (1925) [3:43]
Piano Sonata No. 3 Op.36 (1917) [18:58]
Martin Roscoe (piano)
Rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK in April 2003 DDD
NAXOS 8.557168 [68:51]

Martin Roscoe’s Szymanowski series is finally complete after a decade - the first volume was issued in 1995 (8.533016), the second in 1996 (8.553300) and the third in 2000 (8.553867). Szymanowski’s piano output consisted of three sonatas, mazurkas, preludes, studies and some miscellaneous works; there are no prizes for guessing the role model. Indeed, at the beginning of this disc one might be fooled into thinking this is some undiscovered Chopin. The Preludes were written when Szymanowski was in his mid-teens. They are tuneful, very well-crafted works that are mostly reflective although the fifth is full of drama. The Variations in B flat minor are based on a simple, tranquil theme which I presume was original. Twelve short variations follow and though there are no major innovations, glimpses of Szymanowski’s later, post-romantic style are offered. In this respect, notable variations are the ninth – a waltz and the twelfth, marked Allegro con fuoco.

Six Mazurkas follow – the last four of the Op.50 set and the two which form Op.62 – his last completed work. If Chopin was the ultimate master of this form, Szymanowski was surely not far behind. The Valse romantique was composed as a tribute to the publisher Emil Hertzka but somehow it doesn’t seem to have been published and was "rediscovered" only in 1967. There are complex harmonies here and little that Chopin would have recognised.

The third and final piano sonata concludes the disc and the series. Conventionally structured in four movements, it is more concise than either of its predecessors but arguably Szymanowski’s most original and compelling work for the piano. The sound world here is reminiscent of Debussy and Scriabin whilst retaining something indefinable from Szymanowski’s Polish homeland.

Martin Roscoe made his name in rather different repertoire but has proved a convincing exponent of Szymanowski’s music. I have not heard the competition but there is a bargain price complete set by Martin Jones on Nimbus. All four of Roscoe’s discs are recommendable and hopefully Naxos will bring his series together. Meanwhile, volume 4 would be the obvious sampler with music spanning Szymanowski’s entire career and illustrating his development. The recording and documentation are particularly good here too. The sound on the previous discs (recorded in East Woodhay church) was closer and slightly less natural but I have no sonic reservations at all about volume 4.

Patrick C Waller


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