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
"When E M Smyth's heroically brassy overture to Anthony & Cleopatra was finished, and the composer called to the platform, it was observed with stupefaction that all that tremendous noise had been made by a lady."
George Bernard Shaw
In 1939 Nadia Boulanger was asked what it was like to be the first woman to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the world première of Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks. She replied "Well, I have been a woman for 50 years now and have recovered from my initial astonishment."
The above two quotes come from an excellent article about “women composers” by Diana Ambache. Aaron Cohen’s Encyclopedia of Women Composers lists no fewer than 6,196 and lists over 290 whose music has appeared on CD. Why then is it that in some quarters women composers are still regarded as some kind of anachronism? On every level this attitude is scandalous; because it is simply wrong and because we all miss out. The situation is better now than it has been in the past but there’s still a long way to go. Consider this – I found a list of 82 women composers born between 1750 and 1800. I didn’t know the names of a single one apart from the name of the composer of the music on this disc but I’d never heard of her before receiving it to review.
Maria Szymanowska was justly famous during her short lifetime and was thought highly of by some of the most well known and influential people of the day such as Goethe. He described her as this “ravishing Almighty of the sound world”. The composer Cherubini dedicated his Fantasy in C to her. Admirers included Beethoven, Paganini, Clementi and Pushkin, yet her name is scarcely known today. Born in Warsaw the same year as the French Revolution to a Jewish family that had converted to Catholicism, Marianna Wolowska was exceptionally talented and astonished audiences by improvising at the spinet at an early age. Sent to Paris at the age of 21 she garnered admiration from all quarters and by 1815 she began touring, firstly within Poland and then throughout Europe from St Petersburg to London and from Vienna to Dresden and Berlin. Not only did she achieve success as a virtuoso pianist but also as a composer, mainly of songs. The present disc is a great introduction to them.
The mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Zapolska has made it her project to champion this wonderfully gifted composer and has made a careful selection of songs to demonstrate the breadth of her creativity. The first half of the disc comprising 21 tracks is devoted to songs in French while the rest are in Polish. The latter include five commemorating Polish historical figures. These were commissioned by Julian Niemcewicz the Polish poet, playwright and statesman. They are all beautifully written songs marvellously sung by Elizabeth Zapolska whose diction in French is impeccable and in Polish, perfect as one would expect. Her voice has a bell-like clarity. She is accompanied by the extremely talented pianist Bart van Oort on a wonderful sounding Broadwood piano (the English make preferred by Szymanowska) of 1825 from the collection of Joop Klinkhamer, Amsterdam. The booklet notes by Elizabeth Zapolska are thorough in their examination of the talented Szymanowska. They point out that the composer’s writing for the piano “reflects a pianist in search of a new language, which allows her to widen the palette of sound colors and musical themes ...”
This is a disc of rare quality that enables us to get to know the undoubted talents of a composer who happened to be a woman who, though well known and well respected during her lifetime, has since faded from view. It is to be hoped that this disc will help in rescuing her from oblivion and allow her to take her rightful place as a considerable writer for piano and voice.
  Steve Arloff
It is to be hoped that this disc will help rescue Szymanowska her from oblivion.

List of songs on AP0260

Romance de la Reine Hortense
Le Départ
Complainte d'un aveugle qui demandait l'aumône au Jardin du Roi a Paris
Romance a Joséphine
Peine et Plaisir
Romance du Saule
Romance a 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
Cantilene a deux voix