Antoni Wit

Karol Szymanowski: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 4; Concert Overture; Study in B flat minor

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Polish composer Karol Szymanowski was touched by many of the stylistic currents that crossed Europe in the early twentieth century, but a good performance of his music is one that emphasizes the Polishness he brought to his music even as he adopted ideas from the outside. This one, part of a fine series from Naxos exploring the works of this somewhat underrated composer, is superb. Featured here are the beginning and ending works of Szymanowski's symphonic career, entirely different in character. The Symphony No. 4, Op. 60, "Symphonie Concertante," takes its nickname from its prominent piano part; it is not a sinfonia concertante in the Classical sense, with multiple solo instruments, but a symphony with a prominent solo part. The treatment of texture and the use of the piano might be likened to Stravinsky, but the overall effect is different: the music is not dry but lyrical, with a definite streak of the Polish folk music that always seems to lurk under the surface in Szymanowski's music. Pianist Jan Krzysztof Broja is on top of every detail, and the subtle balances between piano and orchestra that are characteristic of the piece are beautifully handled. The Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 15, which Szymanowski first ridiculed as a"Monstrum kontrapunktyczno-harmoniczno-orchestrowe" and then later completely disowned as too Wagnerian, is a less important piece, but isn't dull in the least and is not, paradoxically, wholly Wagnerian in effect. The symphonies are bookended by a little-known but colorful Concert Overture, Op. 12, and an orchestral version of the early and very Chopin-like Study in B flat minor, Op. 4/3, better known in its original piano version. Thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, and a good place, along with its companion recording featuring the second and third symphonies, to start with this composer.

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