Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
CD 1 [48:31]
Violin Concerto No.1, Op.35 (1916) [23:05]
Symphony No.3 Chant de la nuit for tenor, chorus and orchestra, Op.27 (1914-16) [25:26]
Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Steve Davislim (tenor), Volkhard Steude
Singverein der Gesellschaft Der Musikfreunde/Johannes Prinz
Wiener Philharmoniker/Pierre Boulez
CD 2 [46:36]
Interviews with Pierre Boulez: 1. English Interview Andrew Clemens [15:04]; 2. German Interview Albert Hosp [16:00]; 3. French Interview Omer Corlaix [15:32]
rec. Großer Musikvereinsaal, Wien, June 2009 (concerto); March 2010 (symphony). DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 000289 477 8771 6 GH 2 [48:31 + 46:36]

Boulez conducts Szymanowski – how unlikely is that? Probability is stretched yet further by these pieces being two of the Polish composer’s most ecstatic and lapidary works. After this we must not be surprised if Boulez next records the Krol Roger opera or even Bantock’s Love Songs of Hafiz! Perhaps the marriage is not that implausible given Boulez’s The Firebird and his forays into Bruckner and Mahler. It’s certainly no great travel between the luminous pages of the First Violin Concerto and Stravinsky’s early ballets and Mahler’s night music movements. The present two works along with the orchestral song-cycles and Harnasie are among my favourite Szymanowski - my hopes were very high.

Right from the very start this recording of the Concerto proclaims itself in luxury. Every bejewelled line is held up to the light in luminously glimmering sound. It has never been more beautifully recorded. Tetzlaff’s violin carries a sheen of vibrato – the merest dusting to intensify its exoticism. It’s the first time I have noticed the references to Saint-Saens’ Havanaise as well as an ambient affinity with Korngold. The cadenza is by Pavel Kochanski. Intriguingly Boulez, in the recorded interview, says that he prefers the first violin concerto over the second. He also mentions that, as a student, he was much struck by the Fontaine d’Arethuse which he heard at a Jacques Thibaud concert.

Of the four symphonies Boulez was most drawn to the Third - by its music, obviously, but also by the religious-philosophical text by Rumi. It’s fascinating and its allure is contributed to by tenor Steve Davislim rather than the soprano used by Witold Rowicki in his classic analogue recording. He sounds very idiomatic as he does also in the Vierne and Chausson he recorded for Melba. The recording is just superb and picks up details previously lost to my ears including that doomed drum-beat. The solo violin again plays a critical part rather like a trusted helpmeet yet the part is also freighted with an unnerving sinuous seduction. The choral writing is close to Delius, the glowing lambency of Moeran’s Nocturne and the translucent ecstasies of Flos Campi. Every detail is in place but there’s nothing noticeably North African about this.

There are other aspects to this set. Does they signal a trend? Package 49 minutes of music on one CD and add three different 15 minute conductor interviews – each in a different language - on a second CD. Encase them in an undeniably elite hardback book of 40 pages enlivened with a mix of session photos and historic images of Szymanowski. Then charge £17.00 - that’s MDT - or if Amazon: £21.99. It must be conceded that even if the two works were sold as one CD they would make short commons. As for the book – an undeniably lovely thing – just seven of the 40 pages are taken up by the English language essays. There is, I am pleased to say, a very sensibly laid out full text for the Symphony and translations into English and other languages.

A deluxe presentation then – and a price to match - for these two headily exotic works. I wonder whether Boulez and DG will return to Szymanowski for the Stabat Mater, Sinfonia Concertante and Krol Roger.

Rob Barnett

A deluxe presentation for these two headily exotic works from Szymanowski’s catalogue.