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Decca Phase 4
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Fantasia in C major, Op. 14 (1905) [15:41]
Masques - Three poems for piano, Op. 34 (1915-16)
Harnasie, Op. 55 (1923-31) (arr. for two pianos: Graźyna
Bacewicz; performing adaptation: Andrzej Tatarski) [28:38]
(Fantasia, Harnasie); Joanna Domańska
(Masques, Harnasie) (piano)
rec. 1992, National Philharmonic, Warsaw (Masques);
January 2007, Studio S-1, Polish Radio, Warsaw (Fantasia,
DUX 0576 [68:50]
composers usually owe something to Chopin, and Karol Szymanowski
is no exception. That said, his earlier works are not narrowly
nationalistic; indeed, Szymanowski travelled across Europe,
the USA, North Africa and the Middle East, assimilating the
music of Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin and Wagner along the way.
composer is probably best known for his large-scale works,
two of which – the Stabat Mater and the opera Król
Roger – have been superbly recorded by Sir Simon
Rattle. For their part Dux have marked the 70th anniversary
of Szymanowski’s death with some of the less familiar pieces,
although Domanska’s Masques was taped as long ago as
disc kicks off with the Fantasia in C major, which a
Viennese critic hailed as the work of an ‘authentic genius’.
It is certainly formidable, which is probably why so few pianists
attempted it in Szymanowski’s lifetime. Tatarski, a one-time
pupil of Vlado Perlemuter, has the measure of the score, from
the dark, quasi-Wagnerian dissonances at the beginning to the
more bravura writing later on. Tristan is never far
away – the opening of the second movement is strongly reminiscent
of Liszt’s Liebestod transcription – but Ravel is lurking
in the wings as well; rhythmically, though, this music has
its roots further east.
engineers provide a rich, weighty sound for Tatarski, with
plenty of detail and a decent aural perspective. In fact, it’s
some of the best recorded piano I’ve heard in a while, adding
considerably to my enjoyment of this unfamiliar repertoire.
The third movement strikes me as the most Chopinesque – that
repeated bass note at the outset, the arabesques and the more
aristocratic passages. This is a marvellous, virile performance
of a piece that really ought to be better known.
this display ‘Schéhérazade’, the opening movement of Masques, is
much more Debussian in character, with its washes of colour
and hints of Middle Eastern exoticism. However the writing
does become more angular, more Stravinskian, at times. Domańska
certainly has a remarkable technique and although the acoustic
is not quite as sympathetic as before it is still full bodied
my recent appraisal of Marc-André Hamelin’s latest Alkan disc
I remarked on his unselfconscious playing, which is also the
case with Domańska. Just listen to how she copes with
the music’s expressive range, from the gentle repeated opening
notes to the more animated central section and back to the
shimmer of the closing bars. Comparing this with Rimsky-Korsakov’s
two-piano arrangement of his own Scheherazade is instructive;
indeed, Szymanowski’s tale spinner seems much more elusive
and infinitely more seductive.
second movement, ‘Tantris the clown’, surely owes even
more to Stravinsky, especially in its moments of manic comedy.
Of course it is all about masks – Scheherazade has to play
a role to prolong her life, Tantris is not who he seems and
in ‘Don Juan’ the mask of bravado slips in the more reflective
interludes. Domańska plays with considerable weight and
brilliance here, but to be honest the final movement is probably
the least successful in terms of characterisation and sheer
Szymanowski owes something to Stravinsky in Masques the
debt is even greater in Harnasie, a ballet in two tableaux
and an epilogue. He was much influenced
by folk music from the Polish Highlands (Górale) which
he uses to great effect in this score. Add to that a fascination
with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes and little wonder Harnasie sounds
as if it was forged in the same creative furnace as the Rite and Petrouchka.
story of Harnasie is a simple one; Harnas, a highland
robber, falls in love with a beautiful young highland woman
who has been promised to another. They meet in the spring herding,
which is evoked in music of deceptive openness and simplicity.
The folk rhythms are central to this score and the two pianists
shape and propel the dances very well indeed.
engineers seem to have opted for a closer balance than before,
with Domańska and Tatarski positively attacking the keys
as if to underline the music’s more atavistic aspect. Though
descended from the Fantasia and Masques, this
ballet is the most confident and forward-looking work on the
disc. Yes, the influences are unmistakable but so too is the
composer’s own ‘voice’, especially in moments of unexpected
lyricism (from 2:29 in the ‘Danse du Harnasie’, for example).
Noces’, the high-spirited wedding that opens the second tableau,
is really quite astonishing in its range of sonorities and
sheer propulsive energy. It’s a riotous affair and fortunately
the recording is able to cope with the huge dynamic swings
without obvious strain. Perhaps the music becomes a touch opaque,
even relentless, at times but there’s no doubting its raw,
elemental power. Despite all this Szymanowski still manages
to weave in some folk-like threads as well.
work ends with the robbers raiding the cottage and carrying
off the bride in music of wild abandon. By contrast the epilogue – a
mountain dance – harks back to the simple melodies of the opening.
Again the engineers must take credit for an excellent recording,
which in these quieter passages allows the individual notes
to sound and decay in a very natural way. A most satisfying
result all round.
a useful introduction to Szymanowski’s less familiar pieces.
Of all the music on the disc I enjoyed the Fantasia very
much indeed and the Harnasie arrangement has made me
curious to sample the orchestral original. The double gatefold
packaging – one of my pet peeves – is cumbersome, especially
when the booklet is pasted in. The notes are adequate, if oddly
laid out – two columns per page, one in Polish, one in English – but
don’t let that put you off an otherwise admirable issue.
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