This fourth volume, which completes Martin
excellent recording of the complete piano works of Szymanowski,
takes us from the very beginning of Szymanowski’s career
as a composer to what was effectively its close. The Op.
1 collection of Nine Preludes includes two (the seventh and
eighth) composed at the age of fourteen; the Op. 62 set of
Two Mazurkas were Szymanowski’s last completed works.
The Nine Preludes are thoroughly Chopinesque. They have
a good deal of the sheer beauty of sound that we associate
with the young Szymanowski’s master, that lyrical clarity
that is so distinctive. Most of the Preludes are slow and
meditative pieces - with dramatic eruptions; their moods
are quite various and they display an impressive melodic
fertility in so young a composer.
The Variations in B flat minor were written at much
the same time as the last of the Op. 1 Preludes, but are
a little different in character. They are more classical
in construction, displaying another side of the young composer’s
talent. The theme – marked ‘andantino tranquillo e semplice’ – is
followed by twelve very skilfully crafted variations, all
very short and genuinely various. The third is a nostalgic
mazurka and the ninth a delightful waltz, for example; the
eighth is simplicity itself, the last densely textured and
full of passion.
With the Third Piano Sonata we are no longer dealing
with a young man’s work. This is substantial, fully mature
music, encompassing a wide range of emotions and keyboard
techniques. Though in a single long movement, it is clearly
organised in a pretty close approximation to the kind of
four ‘movements’ we might expect. The dynamism of the opening
phase builds up to a resonant climax before giving way to
exquisite lyricism in the slow ‘movement’; a brief scherzo
introduces a formidable fugue, one of the great passages
in Szymanowski’s writing for the piano and handled with exemplary
clarity by Roscoe.
Op. 50 is made up 20 mazurkas, which were published
in five sets of four; Roscoe here plays the last set and
clearly enjoys the folk-inflected writing in these vigorous,
yet slightly mysterious pieces.
The Valse Romantique was not published during Szymanowski’s
lifetime and was only rediscovered in 1967. It has a charm
which reminds one of Szymanowski’s enduring interest in the
piano music of French impressionism.
The two mazurkas of Op. 62 are remarkable - the first
especially, a fascinating, adventurous piece, in which residually
Chopinesque elements are fused with the influence of Góral
folk music from the Tatra mountains to create an idiosyncratic
idiom which is very distinctively Szymanowski’s own. Peter
Quinn’s booklet notes make mention of a surviving recording
of the composer himself playing this piece – a recording
I would love to hear!
This final volume of Martin Roscoe’s Szymanowski confirms
his many virtues as a pianist – not least his intelligence
and taste, his capacity to evoke both grand sonorities (in
the later works) and a kind of salon-like sentiment (to which
some of the earlier pieces approximate).
Anyone who already has the earlier volumes will surely
want to complete the set; if you start here, be warned. The
fascination of Szymanowski’s musical personality and Martin
Roscoe’s convincing presentation of it are likely to involve
you in further investment – though at Naxos’s very favourable
see also reviews
Sutton and Patrick