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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Violin Concerto No. 1 (1916) [25.49]
Violin Concerto No. 2 (1932) [22.25]
Mandragora (1926) [25.48]
Stabat Mater (1926) [25.55]
Litania do Marii Panny (1933) [9.29]
Demeter (1924) [7.53]
Kazimierz Pustelak (ten); Zdzislaw Lapinski (cello) (Mandragora)
Jadwiga Gadulanka (sop); Jadwiga Rappé (alto); Andrzej Hiolski (bar) (Stabat Mater)
Jadwiga Gadulanka (sop) (Litania)
Jadwiga Rappé (alto) (Demeter)
Polish Radio National SO/Polish Radio SO Kraków (only Mandragora)/Jerzy Maksymiuk (concerti); Antoni Wit (all other Szymanowski)
Henryk GÓRECKI (b.1933)

Three Pieces in the Old Style (1963) [9.47]
Tadeusz BAIRD (1928-1981)

Colas Breugnon Suite (1953) [14.40]
Polish CO/Jerzy Maksymiuk
rec. Warsaw School of Music, Aug-Sept 1976 (Baird, Gorecki); Polish RTV Studios, Katowice, Sept 1978, Mar 1981, Mar 1983 ADD/DDD
EMI CLASSICS DOUBLE FFORTE 7243 5 75670 2 2 [72.52+69.32]


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.

Rob Barnett

 

 



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