Joanna Domanska

Szymanowski: Piano Works

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The music of Karol Szymanowski has been on an upswing since the recession of the self-serving avant-garde and the rise of an eclectic spirit. Szymanowski was criticized specifically for his eclecticism in his own time, but it's looking better and better, rooted in an engagement with a variety of classic models. He drew on Chopin, certainly, but also Wagnerian harmony, Scriabin, Stravinksky, Beethoven, and Debussy -- although he is in a way parallel to Debussy rather than his disciple, and there is a meaty lyricism in his music that's all his own. This Polish recording surveys his piano music and does well to begin with the rarely heard Métopes, Op. 29 (1915). Metopes are bas-relief images interpolated bewteen the small "triglyph" posts on the façade of the top of a Doric structure. Szymanowski wrote the work after visiting the monuments of ancient Greece, and the three short pieces not only evoke episodes of Greek mythology but transport the listener to a mythic space through unusual scales and harmonics. The combination of neo-classicism, in the broadest sense, and a sort of muscled impressionism resounds through the rest of the program, nicely divided between the short (one- or two-minute) 12 Studies, Op. 33, which make an excellent complement to the other studies that take Chopin for a model, and the ambitious Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 36, which is a true sonata but doesn't sacrifice a bit of Szymanowski's dissonant, fantasy-like world. The two modes of expression collide concisely in the third Assai vivace, Scherzando movement, which the listener can sample for a hint of pianist Joanna Dománska's approach. One can wish for a bit more sweep, more of an effort to bring out Szymanowski's Romantic side, but when one learns that the 12 Studies were dedicated to Alfred Cortot, and realizes she has effectively modeled her own playing on that of the French master, her approach makes sense, and in the Piano Sonata, a carefully balanced, rather witty piece, she is superb. The program ends with a set of Polish Dances that have some of the tense nationalism of Shostakovich and differ entirely from the rest of the music on the disc. Strongly recommended.

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