Szymanowski Slopiewnie Sinfonia Concertante Steffens
Szymanowski: Concert Overture, Slopiewnie, Sinfonia
Concertante, Nocturne and Tarantella
CAPRICCIO 5280 (61:00)
This is a fascinating disc of Szymanowski
rarities—early, middle, and late. It is part of an adventurous series from
Karl-Heinz Steffens and the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz
entitled Modern Times, also including
releases of similarly obscure Zimmermann, Dallapiccola, Dutilleux, and Ginastera.
The aim with this Szymanowski release seems to be to fill in gaps (though none
are recording premieres) in a discography heavily weighted towards violin concertos
and chamber works. In their absence, we instead hear the progression of Szymanowski’s
artistic outlook, from the Romantic but undistinguished Concert Overture, through the Impressionistic song cycle Slopiewnie, to the relative austerity of
his late style in the Sinfonia
Concertante (a.k.a. Symphony No. 4).
Overture was apparently intended as an act of musical provocation against
the stuffy Polish musical establishment when it was premiered in 1906, the
composer then 23 years old. But its radicalism is difficult to perceive from a
century’s distance. The informative, if esoterically translated, liner notes by
Christian Heindl point out that Strauss’s tone poems are a strong influence. To
these British ears, the work sounds surprisingly like Elgar, although the
undoubted influence of early Strauss on both composers may be the link. An
elegant and energetic work though, proficiently orchestrated. It certainly
deserves a place at the top of occasional concert program today.
The song cycle Slopiewnie
(op. 46bis) dates from 1921, and Heindl attributes the significant change in
the composer’s style since the overture to the privations of war. The cycle
sets poems by Julian Tuwim, which take in nature imagery and magical themes
(texts are included in the booklet, with German translations, but no English). The
work shows some tangential folk influence, we are told from the music of the
Goral people of southern Poland. The cycle originally had piano accompaniment,
as is clear from the straightforward textures of the chamber orchestra (in the
composer’s own setting), which still retains a prominent part for the piano. It
is unusual to hear a non-Polish singer performing works with Polish texts, but American
soprano Marisol Montalvo sounds suitably idiomatic (though I’m no expert) in
her pronunciation, with her gamely rolled “R”s helping the lines to flow.
Montalvo has an ideal tone for this harmonically advanced by texturally
reserved music: She is secure in all registers, but never overly forceful, with
an attractive delicacy at the top. She employs a steady and narrow vibrato
which also sits well with the style of this music.
Concertante is probably the most popular and often recorded work on this
disc. As its dual title suggests, the concertante piano part vies for dominance
with the orchestra, although it is a friendly dispute, with the two more often
working in close accord. Polish pianist Ewa Kupiec makes an excellent case for the
work, her playing nimble and focused but undemonstrative. It is curious to
learn that the work was dedicated to Arthur Rubinstein (misspelled in the
liner), a pianist whose superior technique would surely have been little taxed
by the solo part. Everything in this work is about color and life, but within
tight stylistic and dramatic confines, and Steffens and his orchestra give the
music its due in a sprightly and engaging performance. The sound engineering
does a good job of balancing the piano with the ensemble, with both always
The program closes with two violin and piano works
arranged by the conductor (who premiered the Concert Overture as well as much else of Szymanowski) Gregor
Fitelberg, Nocturne and Tarantella.
The liner note describes these as encores, but they are more substantial than
that suggests. Fitelberg gives more flamboyant orchestrations than the composer
himself might have done, but they are attractive and colorful, and are given
excellent performances here. As in previous releases on the Capriccio label,
the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz comes across as a proficient
and versatile ensemble, the string sound a little bland, but the technical
standards impressive throughout. The recording was made in collaboration with
Deutschlandradio Kultur and SWR, who were presumably responsible for the sound
engineering, which does the orchestra proud.
appears in Fanfare magazine issue 40:5.
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