Szymanowski: Symphonies 2 & 4 - Lortie / Gardner

Szymanowski: Symphonies 2 & 4 - Lortie / Gardner

Chandos  CHSA 5115

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Concert Overture, Op. 12
Symphony No. 4, Op. 60 "Symphonie concertante"
Symphony No. 2, Op. 19

Louis Lortie (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Edward Gardner (conductor)

This recording of orchestral works by Karol Szymanowski form part of the Polish Music series on Chandos, and is performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Edward Gardner. These performers have impressed in their Lutoslawski survey, which is part of the same series; in a review of volume 1, Gramophone described them as a veritable ‘dream team’.

Symphony No. 2 by Szymanowski is a work of great power and ingenuity, with many passionate and varied contrasts in its use of solo instruments. Composed in 1909 – 10, it is widely considered the greatest orchestral work of the composer’s early period, not to mention one of the most important Polish symphonic compositions to date. Szymanowski himself thought very highly of it, and in August 1911 wrote in a letter to his fellow Polish composer Zdzislaw Jachimecki: ‘How happy I am that this Symphony impressed you as I had wanted. I will frankly admit that I feel somewhat proud about its value. In some miraculous way I have managed during my work on it to resist all those garish phantoms which seduce “young and inexperienced” artists and to produce pure and uncompromising beauty in the way I personally understand it.’

The internationally acclaimed pianist Louis Lortie joins the orchestra and conductor in Symphony No. 4 of 1932, which the composer subtitled ‘Symphonie concertante’ in recognition of the near-soloistic role played by the pianist. Whereas Szymanowski’s early and middle works clearly reflect Wagner, Strauss, and Scriabin, this work is strongly influenced by Prokofiev, particularly in the finale, an agitated and daring movement reminiscent of the Russian composer’s Piano Concerto No. 3, composed about a decade earlier.

Written in 1904 – 05 in a style recalling Wagner and Strauss, the Concert Overture is characterised by enormous expressiveness and gusto in the way it handles the expanding themes. Szymanowski inscribed the original score with part of the poem Witez Wlast by his friend Tadeusz Micinski: ‘I will not play you sad songs, O Shades! but will give you a triumph proud and fierce…’. This vivid imagery is perfectly in keeping with the music’s exuberant and vivacious character.

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PCM recording

Recorded in: Watford Colosseum, 3 April (Symphony No. 2) and 2 July (other works) 2012
Producer: Brian Pidgeon
Sound Engineers: Ralph Couzens, Jonathan Cooper (Assistant), Michael Gerrard (Assistant)
Originally recorded in: 24Bit 96Khz
Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - January 11, 2013

This is the fifth volume of Muzyka Polska – a valuable Chandos series devoted to Polish music and performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner. The first four volumes have focused on the music of Lutoslawski, but with this release the spotlight turns on his older compatriot Karol Szymanowski.

The disc begins with a thrilling account of Szymanowski's 'Concert Overture' a flamboyant work appreciably indebted to the music of Richard Strauss – a composer much admired by the 23 year-old Szymanowski at the time of its composition in 1905. The 'Concert Overture' is scored for a very large orchestra including six horns and triple woodwind. Edward Gardner relishes the work's youthful exuberance and the BBC SO, here on top form, deliver it with with great panache. The huge orchestral climaxes require the best possible recorded sound – something that only SACD can provide – and the combination of the vivid Chandos recording ( 24-bit/96kHz, 5.0 channel surround sound) and the spacious acoustic of the Watford Colosseum certainly deliver in spades.

By the time Szymanowski came to write his 4th Symphony in1932, subtitled appropriately 'Symphonie Concertante', his style had undergone considerable changes, and his interest in the distinctive folk-music of the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland added a new pungency to his writing. The three-movement 4th Symphony is, in all but name, a piano concerto – it is dedicated to the composer's friend Artur Rubinstein, though the composer was the piano soloist at the first performance. From its quiet beginning, strikingly reminiscent of the opening of the 3rd Piano Concerto of Bartok, it moves into a lively allegro with many changes of tempo and mood, each of which is handled confidently by Gardner and the BBC SO. Louis Lortie gives an enthralling account of the piano part. His playing has a crystalline clarity that beautifully contrasts with the rich orchestral tapestry. The interplay of flute, solo violin and piano in the slow movement is quite exquisite and Lortie's interpretation is attuned equally to the work's many poetic passages as well as the unbridled virtuosity required for the orgiastic finale. The recorded balance between piano and orchestra is very natural, and when occasionally the pianist is overwhelmed by the orchestra one notes that this is exactly what happens in the concert hall.

For the third work on this disc we return to the composer's earlier romantic period when his music showed not only the influence of Strauss and Scriabin but especially that of Max Reger. The 2nd Symphony – here,incidentally, making its SACD debut – dates from 1909-10 and is cast in two movements, the second of which is a set of variations on a gorgeous theme followed by a finale and fugue. Unusually this symphony begins with a violin solo – seductively played by Stephen Bryant – as the lyrical music gradually unfolds in a richly contrapuntal fashion. Edward Gardner ensures that forward momentum is maintained in a movement that could become glutinous in the wrong hands. The second movement is notable both for the delicacy and crispness of the orchestral playing in the variations and the vivid realisation of Szymanowski's kaleidoscopic orchestration by the fine recorded sound.

Excellent notes from Adrian Thomas complete this most desirable issue and I eagerly await the next instalment in the series.

Copyright © 2013 Graham Williams and


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