Maria SZYMANOWSKA (1789-1831)
Ballads and Romances
Elizabeth Zapolska (mezzo), Bart van Oort (piano – Broadwood, 1825)
rec. The Dutch Reformed Church of Rhoon, Netherlands, 20-22 June 2011
List of songs at end of review
Texts and translations included
Maria Szymanowska was born in the year of the French Revolution.  Lest one suspect a link with another Szymanowski, she was actually born Marianna Wolowska into a Jewish family that had converted to Catholicism. She studied in her native Warsaw and performed in Paris where Cherubini, delighted by her pianism, dedicated his Fantasy in C to her. She married one Josef Szymanowski, a well off landowner. Despite having three children she managed extensive tours – Dresden, London, St. Petersburg, and Vienna – as well as composing a sheaf of music. Her reception in Russia was especially strong and she settled in St Petersburg with her daughters in 1827, only to die four years later during a virulent cholera epidemic.
Her songs contain Romances and historical explorations, and she frequently set significant poets both native and international, the latter group including Shakespeare. They are rather typical ballads of the first quarter of the nineteenth century too. Sometimes she writes dappled romances, such as Romance de la Reine Hortense or more theatrical tales such as Le Départ. The French influence that was so aesthetically prevalent is most apparent in Complainte d'un aveugle qui demandait l'aumône au Jardin du Roi à Paris, where its tripping elegance is pleasing. The setting culled from Desdemona’s Willow Song is very much a salon effusion, lacking expressive depth. Her Polish song settings are deeply immersed in balladry. The second of the set of five here is rather a conversational, conventional ballad, where the piano accompaniment is rather more involving than the vocal line, except for some dramatic parlando verses – quotations within the poem – which brings things powerfully to life.  Warlike grandeur is alluded to in one of the settings. The last of the set reminds one of the kind of ballads Loewe wrote, or maybe Schubert.
At her worst she succumbs to strophic disease – the endless repetition of ballad verses until one can barely take any more (maybe Wilija counts in the category). Even so, some abridgement has been necessary to cut down on the verses here and elsewhere. At her best she is strong, powerful, with cleverly ambiguous piano writing and intriguing spoken moments.
Bart van Oort plays an 1825 Broadwood, of the type that Szymanowska preferred and he does so with insight and care. Mezzo Elisabeth Zapolska makes a more mixed impression: a thoughtful singer, clearly well versed in the early romantic milieu, she sometimes attacks from under the note and can be hooty.
Still, an interesting impression is left by this disc and note that the booklet cover shows a portrait of the composer painted in 1827 as a new arrival in St. Petersburg.
Jonathan Woolf
An interesting impression is left by this disc.
Romance de la Reine Hortense
Le Départ
Complainte d'un aveugle qui demandait l'aumône au Jardin du Roi à Paris
Romance a Joséphine
Peine et Plaisir
Romance du Saule
Romance à la nuit
Le connais-tu
Se spiegar potessi
Romance du Prince Galitzine
Casimir le Grand
Hedwige, Reine Polonaise (1374-1399)
Jean Albert, Roi de Pologne (1459-1565)
Histoire du Prince Michael Glinski (1470-1534)
Stefan Czarniecki (1599-1665)
Chant de la Vilia
Chant de la tour
Alpuhara, Ballade
Ondine de Switez
Cantilène à deux voix