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Two Szymanowski Symphonies That Show His Evolving Style,
This review is from: Karol Szymanowski: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3 "Song of the Night" (Audio CD)
Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) was a hugely talented composer who came from a country, Poland, whose music did not easily travel to western Europe, and in spite of the advocacy of such well-known musicians as Arthur Rubinstein and Pawel Kochanski, that has not changed much. There have, however, been recordings of all four of his symphonies available for some time now and each one that I've heard has its value. This CD contains Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3. And I must confess that neither performance here is my favorite, although they are quite good in their own way. For the Second I prefer the recording of Leon Botstein and the London Philharmonic and for the Third I very much like that of Jerzy Semkow and the Polish National Radio Symphony which also contains Symphonies Nos. 2 and 4, as well as other orchestral music of Szymanowski. The Botstein is at full-price, the Semkow is a two-CD set at budget price. However, the present recording will certainly do nicely. My preference of the other two recordings is not by a large margin.
These two symphonies, which were composed only six years apart, are from two virtually exclusive worlds. The Second is influenced strongly by the style of Richard Strauss and perhaps Max Reger, with a touch of impressionism, the latter a characteristic that became stronger in Szymanowski's music as he matured. It is in two movements. The first is in 'the grand manner' according to Szymanowski himself and certainly at moments sounds enough like Strauss to be mistaken for something of his. The second movement essentially takes the place of the usual three final movements, with a theme and nine variations ending in a grand fugue, the latter Regerian. Overall, there is a harmonic lushness which is contributed to by Szymanowski's rich orchestration.
The Third Symphony is subtitled 'Song of the Night'. In three movements, its first and third movements include a tenor soloist and a choir singing a Polish translation of two night-poems by the Persian mystic Mevlana Jalal al-Din, as well as a prominent violin obbligato. The musical style is rhapsodic and ecstatic and is influenced by Scriabin and Debussy, particularly the former. Tenor Ryszard Minkiewicz has a rather dry sound -- certainly not the equal of Wieslaw Ochman on the Semkow recording -- but he acts well with the voice. The choir of the Warsaw Philharmonic, however, is outstanding, although recorded just a bit distantly. The Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit certainly have this music in their hearts and fingers.
If you want both symphonies -- and who wouldn't? -- this is a reasonable pick -- but if you have a little more money to spend I'd suggest you go for the Botstein (Symph. No. 2) and the Semkow (Symph. No.3), and if you buy both you'll get a whole lot more of Szymanowski's mesmerizing music.