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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882–1937)
Children’s Rhymes (1915) [29.09]
Songs of the Fairy Tale Princess (1922-23) [17.41]
Anna Mikolajczyk (soprano)
Edward Wolanin (piano)
rec. S-1 Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw, May 2006
DUX DUX0547 [46.48]

Szymanowski’s songs are not exactly common on disc. The exotic cycle "Songs of the Fairy-Tale Princess" crops up occasionally, mainly in its orchestral guise. One issue, is the Polish language, which is not common in the concert hall or opera house.

On this new disc from Dux, Polish soprano Anna Mikolajczyk makes a communicative and convincing case for two of the composer’s song-cycles. Mikolajczyk is not well known in the UK but has a distinguished career in her native Poland, including a significant amount of baroque music – often a good pointer to a healthy technique with a firm and even vocal production.

Mikolajczyk has a voice which is more spinto than lyric with an attractive Slavic edge. She has a relatively tight vibrato with a good firm line. "Children’s Rhymes" are settings of poems by Kazimiera Illakowiczowna. There are twenty songs in a cycle lasting just short of half an hour, none of the songs are long and the shortest last under a minute.

The songs are not songs for children but songs about childhood and children. Mikolajczyk’s performance is not faux-naif, but mature and communicative. Her timbre and phrasing give the songs their full value. But by the end of the cycle I did feel that I had consumed too many small morsels, which did not quite add up to the sum of their parts.

Perhaps one of the issues is my lack of Polish. Mikolajczyk is a communicative singer and I almost did not need to read the translations. But that almost is significant; to get the best out of this song-cycle you do need to sit down and follow them with their libretto.

The poems in "Songs of the Fairy Tale Princess" were written by the composer’s sister, Zofia Szymanowska. The lyrics are not explicitly oriental or exotic but Szymanowski has overlain these with his own particular style of oriental exoticism. The vocal part includes much high cantilena and exotic styling.

Typically these songs are the province of the coloratura soprano. Mikolajczyk has all the notes and an impressive trill. In the upper register her voice displays some pressure and lacks ease of production, but her upper notes are well integrated into her voice and the vocal line. Not everyone will like Mikolajczyk’s sound in these songs, but I found the results interesting and expressive. She brings more to these highly perfumed songs than someone with a greater ease of vocal production. Mikolajczyk is well supported by pianist Edward Wolanin.

The disc includes an English introductory essay and texts in Polish and English. The booklet and CD folder are attractively styled around photographs of the soprano in an Art Nouveau period-setting taken from the Museum of Mazovia in Plock.

The CD is slightly short at 46 minutes and I wished that the performers had included more of Szymanowski’s songs. But what they do give displays the composer in the best possible light. Highly recommended for those interested in exploring some fascinating vocal music.

Robert Hugill


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