Many would consider Karol Szymanowski the most celebrated Polish composer
of the twentieth century. Well-read, well-travelled and with an avid
interest in the arts and architecture, his early music was influenced by
Wagner and Reger. Later he broke free of these shackles and his music became
more harmonically adventurous, impressionistic, exotic and more economic of
texture. Debussy and Ravel became influential.
The earliest pieces here are the 4 Etudes, Op. 4 composed between 1900 and
1902 and dedicated to his cousin Natalia Neuhaus, sister of Heinrich who
became the teacher of both Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels at the Moscow
Conservatory. Taking inspiration from Chopin’s Etudes, Szymanowski’s Etudes
have echoes of Scriabin permeating their fabric. The composer employs bold
harmonic language throughout. The third Etude became his most popular piano
piece, a great favourite of Paderewski.
Fast forward the clock to 1916 and we come to the 12 Etudes, Op. 33,
dedicated to the French pianist Alfred Cortot. Marked by a condensed
brevity, each displays a contrast in tempo, texture, mood and colour. Again
they hark back for inspiration to Chopin’s 24 Etudes. They make great
technical demands on the pianist, and I found them no easy listen.
A year earlier in 1915, Szymanowski composed Métopes ‘Trois Poèmes’, Op.
29. He took as his inspiration the reliefs or metopes at the Sicilian temple
of Selinunte and now housed in the National Museum in Palermo. These he saw
on a trip to Italy four years earlier. Each of these miniature tone poems
draws on Greek mythology: L’ile des Sirènes
. From his earlier piano works, the composer has moved
forward by leaps and bounds with this work, breaking away from German
neo-romanticism and embracing the impressionism and influences of Ravel and
have remained popular with pianists since they
were first published in Vienna in 1922, indeed no less than Artur Rubinstein
took the work into his repertoire.
1915-16 saw the composition of Masques
, Op.34. Like
, it is also in the form of a triptych. Its form is
impressionistic, with complex harmonic structure and free narrative form.
Each piece recalls a famous literary character: Queen Sheherazade
(Tantris le Bouffon
(La Sérénade de Don Juan
Having already recorded Szymanowski’s complete works for violin and piano
with the violinist Alina Ibragimova, one of his regular recital partners,
this is the French pianist’s first solo album for Hyperion. He clearly has
an affinity with and real understanding for these works. Pianistically
demanding, his attention to detail and phenomenal technique meets all the
challenges head-on. His kaleidoscopic spectrum of tonal colour and wide
dynamic range are well suited to this music. Tiberghien’s beauty of sound is
captured by the recording engineers, who achieve a pleasing and satisfying
aural perspective. Francis Pott’s comprehensive, analytical liner-notes — in
English, French and German — are a bonus in setting this less than familiar
music in some sort of context. I found them extremely informative.
All told, this is music well worth exploring.