Szymanowski: 20 Mazurkas, Op. 50; Two Mazurkas, Op. 62

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COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: Meridian
WORKS: 20 Mazurkas, Op. 50; Two Mazurkas, Op. 62
PERFORMER: Kaoru Bingham (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDE 84323
Meridian’s collected Mazurkas make a useful addition to the current Szymanowski discography. Kaoru Bingham lacks the identifiably ‘Polish’ idiom brought to the fore by Joanna Domanska on Olympia. But she has an engaging personality of her own, which speaks loud and clear, and ensures there is much to be savoured in these interpretations.

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The latish Op. 50 Mazurkas (plus the Op. 62 pair, his last piano pieces) merge several layers of Szymanowski’s style. The more impressionistic – Nos 2 or 13 – call for a pianist with subtle touch and definition. It’s crucial not to descend to a sub-Ravelian colouristic wash, which can easily confound Szymanowski’s delicate musings or cake-walkish cavortings alike.

Bingham starts beautifully: had her delightfully idiomatic opening of the Gymnopédie-like No. 1 been continued, this might have made for an outstanding disc. The opening’s frisson gets matched here and there (No. 9, for example), and she can be agreeably robust and percussive without blasting (Nos 10 or 18); she builds and subsides skilfully, and capably kneads pace and dynamic alike.

High points include No. 12 – one of surprisingly few moments where the exotic Szymanowski of the wartime Timoszowka Masques or middle-period songs seems uppermost. But she unearths, too, other interesting back-references – echoes of the Chopin-soaked Szymanowski of the early sonatas, for example.

A periodic brake on enjoyment is a slightly overzealous sustaining pedal which tends to dim or slur the folk-harshness. Szymanowski’s blunt seconds and contrary motion tweakings need bite; the descending fourths and major-minor modalism call for a Bartókian acerbity. Twinges of blandness eclipse the necessary icy clarity here and there. If one looks for this, one could be disappointed.

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Still, Bingham’s cheerful resourcefulness more than compensates for any doubts, while the range she has to offer benefits to the full from Meridian’s generous acoustic. Roderic Dunnett