Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Symphony No 1 in F minor, Op.15 [17:47]*
Symphony No.2 in B flat major, Op.19 [29:40]**
London Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
rec. 22 September 2012, 11 October 2012* and 23 September, 13
LSO LIVE LSO0731 SACD
Many people would consider Karol Szymanowski the most important
Polish composer since Chopin. It comes as a surprise to learn that many of
his works are seldom performed or recorded. Gergiev’s championing of
this composer is commendable and very fitting for a conductor who has scored
numerous accolades for his recordings of Scriabin, a composer whose
otherworldly and ecstatic musical traits find echoes in the music of his
This recording derives from performances of the two symphonies given
in the Barbican, London in September and October 2012 to mark the
anniversary of the composer’s death in 1937. The LSO
presented all four symphonies, the two violin concertos and other works in
concert, pairing them with works by Brahms. Symphonies 3 and 4 and the
are due for release.
Szymanowski’s First Symphony was completed in 1907. Only the
two outer movements were realised. Regarded later by the composer as a
youthful indiscretion, he withdrew it after its first performance in 1909.
Heavily influenced by Strauss, it has been criticized for its dense
orchestration, intricate textures, opaque chromatic idiom, all framed within
the context of an overblown romanticism. Yet fast-forward the clock three
years and the Second Symphony, also in two movements, shows a composer who
has grown both in confidence and experience. With its theme and variation
second movement, the influence of Reger can readily be detected, together
with impressionistic input from both Debussy and Ravel.
Gergiev and the LSO certainly meet head-on the challenges that this
music presents. Many recognize a looseness and lack of formal structure in
these works. Gergiev has an innate understanding of their shape, direction
and narrative. Teasing out the complex orchestral detail, he is able to
highlight and underline the orchestral colours of these lush scores. The
strings are particularly ravishing. There is both passion and drama together
with expressive lyricism. I certainly get the feeling that conductor and
orchestra are deeply committed to and really enjoy performing this music.
There is a life-affirming fervour throughout.
Closely miked, the recording has a very wide dynamic spectrum.
Though an SACD, I was only able to listen to the performances in stereo,
rather than in surround sound. For those not too familiar with
Szymanowski’s music, this is as good a starting point as any. As for
me, I can’t wait for the next instalment.
See also review by Dave Billinge