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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Piano Works - Volume 4

Nine Preludes Op.1 (1896-1900) [18:58]
Variations in B flat minor Op.3 (1901-3) [11:11]
Mazurkas Op.50 Nos. 17-20 (1924-5) [10:15]
Two Mazurkas Op.62 (1933-4) [5:44]
Valse Romantique (1925) [3:43]
Piano Sonata No. 3 Op.36 (1917) [18:58]
Martin Roscoe (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, UK, April 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557168 [68:51]

While there are a fair number of recordings of Szymanowksi’s piano music, complete sets are not too common. The classic was that recorded by Martin Jones for Nimbus, and for many this will remain the one to have. The present CD completes a set recorded over a decade for Naxos by Martin Roscoe. At least as far as this disc is concerned, admirers of the composer will probably want to consider adding this to their collections. I mentioned in a previous review that Roscoe (Celebrity Recital from the 5th Chetham’s Festival - review) sometimes seems to excel in slow music, but here he shows a broader range.

The present disc contains both Szymanowski’s first and last publications, the Preludes Op.1 (nos. 7 and 8 from 1896, the rest from 1899-1900) and the Mazurkas Op. 62 (from 1933-4). In between are an early set of variations; a short Romance written for Emil Hertzka of Universal Edition; the last piano sonata; and the last four of the Mazurkas Op. 50, as well as the two Op. 62 Mazurkas. In the early works Roscoe is very good at maintaining the balance between Szymanowski’s many early influences (Chopin, Wagner, Scriabin to name a few) and the sensitive original personality that was already emerging, but was not to become fully evident until much later. The early Variations ricochet back and forth between the virtuosic and the contemplative. Roscoe handles them excellently while keeping the individual variations in the context of a single movement.

Roscoe performs a similar feat with the Sonata No. 3. This work follows regular sonata form, but with the four sections subsumed into one movement. There are various thematic cross-references between sections and the concluding fugue is foreshadowed in each of the preceding sections as well as combining with the second subject of the allegro. The performance is clear-cut and exciting, although it did not make me want to totally abandon the Raymond Clarke recording. Roscoe also does well with the two late Preludes Op.62, responding to their abstract quality and rhythmic complexities.

Szymanowski’s Mazurkas Op. 50 are among his later folk-oriented works in which he tried to utilize the rhythms and harmonic inflections of the Goral area to achieve an aesthetic universality through ethnic specificity. For me the problem with these pieces is that the folk elements seem to interfere with the mazurka character of the works, producing a kind of indeterminate piece that has neither the power nor the beauty of the composer’s best work. Roscoe’s playing of the final group of Mazurkas (nos. 17-20) did nothing to change my opinion and indeed the vigor and interest he brings to the other works on this disc is lacking in the Mazurkas. Perhaps the pianist has a similar opinion of them.

In conclusion one can say that Martin Roscoe does very well with most of this music, but many listeners will prefer the Mazurkas Op. 50 as played by Martin Jones or Marc-André Hamelin. However as part of one of the few complete sets of Szymanowski piano music and at budget price, with good sound, this CD becomes almost indispensable.

William Kreindler

see also reviews by Kevin Sutton and Patrick Waller

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