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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Piano Works - Volume 4
Nine Preludes, Op. 1 (c. 1896) [
Variations in B flat minor (1901-1903) [11:11]
Mazurkas, Op. 50, Nos. 17-20 (1924-5) [10:15]
Two Mazurkas, Op. 62 (1933-34) [5:44]
Valse Romantique (1925) [3:43]
Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 36 (1917) [18:58]
Martin Roscoe, piano
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK, 15-17 April 2003.
NAXOS 8.557168 [68:51]


Martin Roscoe continues his Naxos traversal of the solo piano works of Szymanowski in this their fourth volume.  The choice of works here is particularly interesting and appropriate as they run a wide chronological span, and reflect the sharp turns in the composer’s harmonic development.

The Op. 1 Preludes, thought to be the earliest surviving works by the composer, definitely show the influence of his famous countryman Frederic Chopin. Immensely tuneful, these little gems make for pleasant listening, but are, on the other hand, certainly not lightweight bon-bons either. They show a great deal of maturity in both harmony and form, and contain ample virtuosic show.

The Variations in B flat minor are a study in contrasts, with some movements as simple and straightforward as a Lutheran Chorale, and others as complicated as Chopin’s most difficult and intricate etudes.

The two sets of Mazurkas are totally different animals, straying far from what we would expect from a countryman of Chopin. Neither predictable nor particularly melodic, these works are serious and require some effort on the part of the listener. It is an effort that pays off in the end, but I would suggest that no-one makes up his or her mind on first hearing. Give this music a chance.

The delightful little Valse Romantique is a piece that should be heard more often. It is the kind of recital filler with which more pianists could make hay.

The program closes with the rather stormy and mighty Sonata No. 3. This is a serious work, full of dense harmony and intricate counterpoint. Dark in mood, there are moments of great thunder. The contrasting and only very occasional repose is suffused with foreboding and threat rather than being relaxing and comforting. For its entire eighteen-plus minute run, the listener is kept on the edge of the seat.

Martin Roscoe is a pianist of considerable ability. He plays with a bright clear tone that can dazzle when necessary, and yet he never fails to capture the more tender moments in the music - although in most of this repertoire, those moments are few and far between. He has obviously dedicated a great deal of time to this composer, and the hard work pays off in spades. His readings are authoritative and convincing, never leaving the listener in doubt of his interpretive or artistic intentions.

Fine sound production from Naxos and excellent program notes by Peter Quinn round off this very fine release. This is a welcome addition to the catalogue, and a volume that piano lovers will certainly want to acquire.

Kevin Sutton

see also Review by Patrick Waller





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