was born in modern day Ukraine.
A childhood leg injury prevented
him from attending school as a child
and he received his education, both
musical and otherwise, at home.
He and his four siblings would go
on to be prominent musicians, poets
and artists. As a young man he studied
in Warsaw and in Berlin. It was
in Warsaw that his Polish identity
- his father was Polish and his
mother was of Swedish extraction
- would come to the fore. He would
go on to become a prominent member
of Young Poland in Music, a group
dedicated to the creation and promotion
of modern Polish music.
The Second Symphony
is cast in three sections. The first
movement is lengthy and rhapsodic.
Opening with a yearning violin solo
ably played by Ewa Marczyk. This
is music that is packed with contrasts:
at times lush and romantic, at others
packed with stinging dissonance.
Harmonically it is reminiscent of
Mahler, but with a more compact
and to the point formal structure.
The second movement is a clever
theme and variations and the final
movement is a complex fugue. The
Warsaw Philharmonic acquits itself
well in this music with some outstanding
playing from the horn section. Antoni
Wit leads a well paced performance,
coaxing a warm and rich tone from
his string section.
The Third Symphony
again relies on a sophisticated
violin solo, but Szymanowski also
adds a full chorus and a tenor soloist
to set a thirteenth century song
in praise of the night. The large
orchestral forces and the wall of
sound coming from the chorus remind
us a bit of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder.
Szymanowski ventures further afield
harmonically in this work than in
the earlier symphony, with more
reliance on biting dissonances.
The weak link here is tenor Ryszard
Minkiewicz, whose voice possesses
all the necessary heft in the loud
passages, but lacks in subtlety
when he is required to sing softly.
There are moments when we are left
wondering if he will be able to
sustain the high soft notes without
cracking. The Warsaw Philharmonic
Chorus is a fine ensemble, with
a warm blended tone that does not
short out in the loudest passages.
Of the two symphonies,
I found the earlier work to be the
most satisfying. As often seems
to happen when voices are added
to compositions called "symphonies,"
the structural integrity of the
music tends to weaken and we are
left with a somewhat rambling soundscape.
This seems to happen in the latter
work. Nonetheless, this is a recommendable
recording, especially for the virtuosity
of the Warsaw Philharmonic as displayed
in the Symphony No. 2.
by Dan Morgan