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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Symphony No. 4 Sinfonia Concertante Op. 60 (1932) [24.02]
Harnasie - ballet-pantomime in three acts for tenor, choir and orchestra Op. 55 (1923-31) [34.02]
Piotr Paleczny (piano)
Jerzy Knetig (ten)
National Philharmonic Orchestra, Warsaw/Kazimierz Kord
rec. Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall, 12 June 1996 (Op.60), 19-21 Feb 1996 (Op. 55). DDD
CD ACCORD ACD 027-2 [58.04]

This is one of two Szymanowski CDs from this company. The other is built around the two violin concertos in excellent performances by Kaja Danczowska.

The Symphonie Concertante written just five years before the composer’s death is in three movements. Unlike the recently reviewed Centaur recording with Mescal Wilson this is in three tracks. The performance well projects its exuberance and display. Piotr Paleczny knows the work very well indeed and has recorded it several times previously. There is a priestly air about this work - like the fragrant breezes that refresh some Sicilian temple and this is very well put across in the middle movement. This work has parallels with Bax's Symphonic Variations (recorded by Joyce Hatto and recently reissued on Concert Artist - not to be missed if you like the Szymanowski). Bax , as we know, was an admirer of Szymanowski's music and it was the Pole who was the true dedicatee of Bax's Sixth Symphony rather than Boult, the politically correct one. Other influences or parallels for this work include de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain. There is even a Mahlerian grunting double bass ostinato straight from the First Symphony at 0.57 in the finale. As ever this work moves with fluid mercurial fantasy from soloistic and chamber intimacy to hedonistic eruptive ecstasy.

Other versions of Symphonie Concertante include the 1977 analogue recording on Polskie Nagrania PNCD 062 by Tadeusz Zmudzinski. This sounds more analytical and less cocooned than the Accord version. The piano does not have the lustrous depth experienced in the Paleczny version. It is rather bare and spare and the violins sound shrill by comparison with Kord's version of the same orchestra twenty years later. Rowicki (a world class conductor) who never made as much progress as he could have manages the quietly expectant tension of the rhythmic launch of the finale extremely well. Zmudzinski takes poetry on much the same tack in his 1989 version with Karol Stryja at Katowice. That version, originally on Marco Polo, now Naxos, has the perfectly adequate definition of a radio broadcast rather than the best sound now available. Probably the best recorded version I know is that with Leif Ove Andsnes (EMI) but it is coupled with Simon Rattle's King Roger some of the singing on which is not ideal. If you can live with 1979-80 sound in a cavernous untamed acoustic then Paleczny's excursion with the Bacchanalian Polish Radio Nation Symphony Orchestra with Jerzy Semkow is worth finding. It is more analytical, cooler than the Accord disc, yet warmer than the Marco Polo and the Polskie Nagrania.

The ballet Harnasie has been a particular favourite of mine since hearing the work on an Aurora LP (AUR5064) circa 1978. There have been several recordings including an incomplete one on an old Olympia disc which also includes the opera King Roger. The Marco Polo/Katowice (8.223292) version's virtues are not so overwhelming that they override the annoyance of having the ballet in one unmanageable single track running 28.28. The Accord CD is up against stiff competition with the Wit-conducted EMI version. Accord's tenor (Jerzy Knetig) is recorded very closely while Wit's Andrzej Bachleda is quite distant. I am not sure that Szymanowski ever pulled off a more excitingly climactic piece of writing than the Entry of the Harnasie and dance complete with its fall away into chaos. Trumpet writing is extremely demanding, retching and uprooting. This is overwrought and made truly exciting in Wit's hands. By the way these Polish EMI versions are drawn from a 1983 4LP Szymanowski centenary box issued in 1983 (SLS5242). The contents were reissued across a series of Matrix reissues and we can hope they will be reissued again perhaps in one of EMI's bargain boxes (the formula followed for Boult's RVW symphonies and Berglund's Helsinki cycle). In Kord's case the Accord recording is overwhelmingly full and is perhaps the most powerfully recorded version ever although the trumpets do not have the cleanly delineated presence that they enjoy in the EMI analogue version. Harnasie is a gift of a work - truly wonderful - a potent amalgam of folk-naturalism and the modern romantic-impressionistic spirit.

The notes, which are extensive, are in Polish and idiomatically translated English. They provide the best exposition I have come across of the plot to Harnasie. These are made the more attractive by folk-style woodcuts illustrating the storyline. These have some of the stark quality of the pugnacious little cartoons that usually illustrate Jaroslav Hacek's Good Soldier Svejk.

By the way please do not confuse this record company with the French outfit, Accord, which is Paris based. This is CD-Accord and based in Poland. Confusion is possible of course and this is all the more of a potential problem as both labels are part of the Universal Music marque.

The CD Accord recording has a warm embrace which lends a heat haze to the effulgent chamber textures.

Go for the CD Accord if you relish power unflinchingly recorded, warmly rendered. If you need something more analytical then wait for the EMI to be reissued as it surely will or track down Matrix 15 EMI 5 65307 2.

Rob Barnett

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