The latest release in the Chandos Szymanowski series features the
well-known Symphony No.3 alongside less well-known music. Perhaps
in order to encourage us to listen to Symphony No.1, Chandos have
chosen to couple these recordings differently from most of their rivals:
Nos. 1 and 2, and 3 and 4 are together on two LSO Live recordings
(Gergiev); 3 and 4 are coupled on Naxos (Stryja and Wit, blu-ray)
and, with other Szymanowski works, on EMI/Warners super-budget 4-CD
set (Rattle), while its Nos. 2 and 3 on Decca (Dorati) and on Naxoss
CD of the Wit performances. No other current recording offers Nos.
1 and 3 together.
The new Chandos received a warm welcome from Dominy Clements (CHSA5143
Like him I think that Antoni Wits Naxos recordings, differently coupled,
are not superseded, especially as they are also available on blu-ray
but I also thought that the Chandos recordings just have the
edge. I have to take Szymanowskis highly spiced music in small
doses but I liked the Wit performances, which went a considerable way
to converting me to the cause of a composer whom I didnt know at all
well enough review
and the blu-ray sound is very good without being special.
The chief competition in Symphony No.3 comes from Simon Rattle on that
4-CD Warner/EMI compilation (5146742 review
which I streamed from Qobuz
As Dominy Clements notes, Gardner is inclined to hold back a little
more than Rattle and perhaps for that reason, though I enjoyed both,
the new recording would be my preferred choice.
The Love Songs of Hafiz
are similarly exotic works hardly surprising
when Hafiz succeeded Rumi as the reigning Sufi poet and they too receive
excellent performances. In neither work does Ben Johnson make the music
sound over-sweet. Ive seen it suggested that his voice is not a natural
fit for Szymanowski, but his failure or refusal to sound too fruity
may be another reason why I liked these accounts of both works.
Theres a special challenge in performing works which their composers
disowned, such as the Grieg Symphony and Dvořáks early
symphonies, for all of which more than reasonable cases have been made
on record. I have a particularly soft spot for Dvořáks
first symphony, The Bells of Zlonice
, another work abandoned
by its composer which I got to know years ago from a Supraphon recording
conducted by Vaclav Neumann. Szymanowskis First Symphony is such
a work and Edward Gardner and his team make a strong case for it here.
Such music needs a special touch the Naxos recording of the Dvořák
directed by Stephen Gunzenhauser falls somewhat short of convincing
me as Neumann did, and other recordings of the Szymanowski that Ive
tried didnt quite do it for me as well as Gardner. Its a
bit overblown in places, but thats the composers fault,
not that of the performers.
I listened to the SACD and the 24-bit download from theclasssicalshop.net
(CHAN5143); both are excellent, with nothing to choose between them.
I imagine that the multi-channel layer of the SACD and the Studio Surround
download cope even better with the dense textures of the First Symphony,
but if you dont need surround-sound, the ordinary
24-bit download, the mp3 and 16-bit lossless downloads are all good.
I suggest you follow the advice which theclassicalshop.net now give
to use the free iGetter for downloading the zip files from this source.
It tolerates interrupted downloads, which is especially important when
downloading the large time-consuming 24-bit files.
The booklet, with texts and translations, is almost too thick to slot
back into the CD case it might have fitted better if Chandos were
to use the round-shouldered cases in which others place SACDs. Im pleased
to report that it comes with the download from the classicalshop.net
like several of my colleagues Im currently on the warpath against
non-provision of booklets: see Dan Morgans recent article
on the subject.
Whichever way you obtain this, its well worth having. If you havent
yet gone for the Second and Fourth Symphonies on its predecessor,
that should be your first port of call. If you already have that,
you will probably need no urging to buy the new recording.
Symphony 3: first performed
1921; on a poem from
the second Divan by Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273), translated into Polish
by Tadeusz Micinski (1873-1918)
Love songs: on poetry paraphrased
after Hafiz by Hans Bethge (1876-1946)
Getting to Know … The Symphonies & Concertos of Karol Szymanowski
by David Barker