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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
The Three Piano Sonatas
Piano Sonata No.1 in C minor Op.8 (1904) [34:34]
Piano Sonata No.2 in A major Op.21 (1911) [29:14]
Piano Sonata No.3 Op.36 (1917) [21:01]
Gajusz Kęska (piano)
rec. 2008/9 Concert Hall of the Music Academy in Cracow
DUX 0893-94 [34:34 + 50:17]

Experience Classicsonline

Dux has issued all three Szymanowski piano sonatas in one twofer, and there’s the rub. It seems hard on the performer to begin with commercial considerations, but because of the split between the discs the total timing is 84 minutes. I’d hoped that Dux would have reflected that this is really one CD’s worth (give or take four minutes) by reducing the price bracket, but having checked I see that they haven’t and that this is selling as a full price double. I would hope they reconsider. The performances are good, but the cost will deter many from acquiring this release, especially as the First Sonata is an early, rather uncharacteristic work, and potential purchasers will waive the opportunity to hear it.
As I said, the performances of Gajusz Kęska are good. In Szymanowski’s greatest sonata, the Third, he is not as arresting as his fellow Pole, Anderszewski, on Virgin Classics. Nor is he quite as consistently accomplished as Martin Jones in his extensive trawl through the composer’s works; though Jones’s sonata performances come in the context of a 4 CD Nimbus set, so I’m not sure that necessarily advances things much, unless you want to collar the lot in one go.
So, whilst Kęska is not as glitteringly colouristic as Anderszewski, nor as probing of the music’s impressionist moments, his slightly more measured approach brings its own rewards. Less vertical in his responses, and cooler, he nevertheless evinces fine rubati and ensures that the music’s artful but ceaseless flow is well conveyed. Its rigour and strenuous appeal is not universally admired, but to those responsive, Anderszewski’s elucidation of the Third Sonata’s tauter moments, and its fugal ones too, will come as welcome evidence of the music’s sheer profusion and cleverness of invention. One gets a good sense of the manifold thickets as well as the textual and metrical problems encountered;, though, with Kęska and also the sense that he has coursed them with intelligence.
I sense even more identification with the Second sonata, whose late romantic moments, and heroic chording especially, bring out the bravura in Kęska. He works towards the climaxes splendidly, and vests the unsettled second movement with a sense of benevolence. One thing to which I think he is especially drawn is the Lisztian element embedded in Szymanowski’s music, because he responds to it with alacrity and power. So, too, the rather undigested fugal feint here, which is not nearly as suavely embedded in this work as it was to become in the 1917 Third sonata.
The First Sonata was written in 1904. It’s predicated structurally on Chopinesque grounds, though it exudes Lisztian eruptions and in the slow movement one encounters a distinctly Beethovenian sound world. These influences, not yet fully rationalised, and certainly not expressively integrated, do however reveal something important about his musical development. The dappled lightness of the finale, with some harp-like harmonies, show an obvious debt to impressionism, but also point the way forward to his more mature writing.
So, this release does usefully capture, in good sound, the pianistic Szymanowski in sonata frame of mind. But, I must return to my first paragraph and hope that Dux reconsiders its pricing structure.
Jonathan Woolf 

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