Szymanowski: Love Songs of Hafiz; Songs of a Fairyale Princess; Harnasie

Album title:
Love Songs of Hafiz; Songs of a Fairyale Princess; Harnasie
Iwona Sobotka (soprano), Katarina Karnéus (mezzo-soprano), Timothy Robinson (tenor); City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Simon Rattle
Catalogue Number:
364 4352
BBC Music Magazine
A belated addition to Simon Rattle’s Szymanowski series for EMI, this hugely welcome recording – made on one of the conductor’s return visits to the CBSO – focuses on Szymanowski’s late, neglected masterpiece, the ballet Harnasie. Completed in 1931 and sometimes described as the ‘Polish Rite of Spring’, Harnasie is rooted in the folk mythology of Poland’s Tatra mountains. It tells the story of a Robin Hood-like character who raids a mountain village to rescue an unhappy bride from her wedding, but the score is never folksy. One reason for the work’s relative obscurity is that its impractical demands – in addition to large orchestra it calls for tenor soloist and chorus – and it also needs performers positively soaked in the idiom. As Szymanowski’s most persuasive non-Polish champion, Rattle draws an intoxicating and punchy performance that could hardly be bettered. Still, Kazimierz Kord’s recording with Polish forces on CD Accord still has the slight edge, for it more distinctly breathes the highmountain air. Szymanowski usually resisted the notion of nationalism in music, and Harnasie was his most decisive step away from the orientalism he had earlier embraced. That side of his musical personality is richly represented in the sets of songs that frame the ballet. In 1933 he orchestrated three of his earlier (1915) six Songs of a Fairytale Princess, and it is these that are sung here in glistening tone by the soprano Iwona Sobotka. The orchestral writing is no less colourful in his second cycle of Love Songs of Haifiz, which find Katarina Karnéus in vibrant voice. For performances and repertory alike, this is an unmissable recording.
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