Valery Gergiev / London Symphony Orchestra

Szymanowski: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2

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On this first of two LSO Live SACDs devoted to the four symphonies of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, Valery Gergiev, and the London Symphony Orchestra perform the Symphony No. 1, a passionate but rather dense essay in two expansive sections, which were intended to be the outer movements of a much larger work, and the Symphony No. 2, which is somewhat more approachable due to its chamber-like writing and coherent four-movement structure. The many influences on Szymanowski's music are a little difficult to untangle, though they are perhaps easier to distinguish in these symphonies than in the last two. The most striking are Richard Strauss and Alexander Scriabin, though to a lesser extent, the pull of Claude Debussy can be heard in soft passages. Overall, Szymanowski's intensely emotional style is comparable to the post-Romantic music of Arnold Schoenberg, in so far as both composers expressed their ideas in highly chromatic and vaguely tonal language, yet found tonality almost too limiting for their purposes. Gergiev delivers surges of emotion and powerful climaxes, and the London Symphony Orchestra plays with great energy and impressive force, and they make fairly convincing cases for these relatively neglected symphonies.

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