Szymanowski is getting to be much better known
and enjoyed all over the world. That said one still feels safest
when listening an expert at the keyboard - someone who has studied
most if not all of his oeuvre and, most importantly, loves it.
In pianist, Eri Iwamoto we have just the right
candidate as the booklet essay on how she came to play the music
in the first place, recounts. She won the Milosz Magin International
Piano Competition in Paris in 2005 taking a prize for the best
performance of a work by Karol Szymanowski. She writes “The
power with which the composer speaks deeply into the heart of
the listener and performer fascinated me”. She adds “I elected
to devote myself to his music”. Later we are told that she even
“settled in Warsaw, at Krucza Street where the nineteen year
old Szymanowski had lived in 1901” and that she “had an impression
that the rhythm of the Mazurkas was hovering in the air”. The
works featured here represent a very personal choice by this
pianist. Yet they make a very convincing chronological programme.
The disc opens with the warm-hearted Nine Preludes.
These short pieces are quite varied. Each quickly establishes
a mood and atmosphere. These are romantic utterances composed
one feels, with Chopin not too far away. They are mostly slow
but one, number four, is a quite violent but brief outburst.
Each is in a minor key. I have heard them performed elsewhere
but never as beautifully as this. Their moods are perfectly
There are however two aspects of this CD I can’t
get on with. One is the Variations Op. 3 which seems characterless
compared with the composer’s normal output and has an overweight
bombastic ending. The other is Iwamoto’s rather fast and, it
seems to me, insensitive rendition of the famous Etude Op. 4
no. 3. Some of you might know it in its gorgeously coloured
and romantic orchestral version by Grzegorz Fitelberg (1879-1953).
Mentioning Chopin one thinks of Mazurkas. Szymanowski
wrote a considerable number of these. Most pianists, as here,
select one or two or make a group. But don’t expect Chopin.
These pieces cannot at all be danced to. They have a strain
of uncertainty and often, melancholy as if probing beyond the
restrictions of form and harmony. Especially striking is the
last recorded here: the Op. 50 no. 4, marked risoluto,
with its striving and anxiously rising melody.
The other work on this disc is quite different,
‘Métopes’. This is, what the booklet calls, a suite of
three movements – Isle of Sirens, Calypso and
Nausicaa. If you have concluded from the titles that
they have a classical Greek basis then you are right. A ‘métope’
is an architectural term meaning a frieze decorating the exterior
of a building. Nausicaa alludes to Homer’s ‘Odyssey’. This is
the most advanced music on the CD and would have appeared very
modern in 1915. It is post-impressionist, with a form and a
tonality each of which is impossible to pin down. The rhythms
are so complex that they appear to be free-floating. Although
the notes do not mention him, Scriabin comes to my mind and,
oddly enough so does Cyril Scott. The problem is that all three
movements seem to be very similar in harmony, melody and rhythm.
The third begins in a lullaby-type compound time but even that
soon evaporates. It builds to a climax and dies away in a style
quite different from its opening. Iwamoto is brilliant in these
pieces. She captures the elusive mood, yet brings out the inner
detail never however to the detriment of the texture as a whole.
Pedalling is of prime importance in these pieces but you never
notice it. Her whole performance is of one effortless virtuosity.
On visiting Warsaw a few years ago I went to
the baroque Holy Cross Church just a mile out of the old city
- to where Szymanowski lies buried. Like almost all of the city
the church was virtually entirely destroyed but has rebuilt
exactly as it was. Curiously however one of the few things not
destroyed or badly affected by the enemy action was the Szymanowski
memorial next to the heart burial of Chopin. The Polish people
are incredibly proud of their musical sons.