Szymanowski’s Stabat mater is not just one of the signal choral works of the Twenties: it draws together much of what makes him such a fascinating composer. If it avoids the late-Romantic complexity of his early style, there are vestiges of the Debussyan colouring that dominated his music in the 1910s. Most interesting, however, is the presence of the ecstatic urgency of his opera King Roger, which transfers surprisingly well to the Catholic poetry of the Stabat mater from the paganisms of medieval Sicily. Finally, there is the directness which results from Szymanowski’s late fascination with Polish folksong, the element which continues to touch performers and audiences.
This new issue has the plus of a persuasive and sonorous performance of the Third Symphony, Song of the Night, along with the shamefully under-recorded Kurpian Songs for unaccompanied choir from the late Twenties. These peasant wedding poems are given a rich setting by Szymanowski and mostly the choir responds well, though the choral ensemble is rather less impressive in the two brisker numbers. The performance of the Stabat mater is certainly fine: the opening movement alone would be worth the price of the disc for the ravishing soprano-singing of Tatiana Sharova. Valeri Polyansky blends the starker textures with skill and draws impressive, hieratic singing from the choir. But his preservation of a religious calm also sidesteps the drama in the work, a quality which Simon Rattle with a magnificently flexible choral contribution on EMI makes very much part of the other-worldly. Jan Smaczny