Szymanowski: Piano Sonata No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 3; Preludes, Op. 1; Etudes, Op. 33; Mazurkas, Op. 50

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COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 1; Piano Sonata No. 2; Piano Sonata No. 3; Preludes, Op. 1; Etudes, Op. 33; Mazurkas, Op. 50
PERFORMER: Martin Jones (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: NI 1750 Reissue (1994, 1995)
Szymanowski’s piano music traverses three distinctive styles: full-blooded late-Romanticism of his earlier output, exotic impressionism during the First World War, and then the leaner nationalism of the Twenties. Each period offers considerable musical rewards, not least the early work which occupies two of these four discs. Here one is particularly impressed both by the composer’s formidable mastery of such technically challenging forms as Variation and Fugue, and by his ability to distil such disparate influences as Chopin, Reger and Scriabin into a convincing musical entity.

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Even more remarkable, however, are the piano tone poems Métopes and Masques which inhabit the same languorous world as the Third Symphony and the First Violin Concerto, and in places almost anticipate Messiaen in terms of harmony and filigree ornamentation.

The Spartan bitonality and percussiveness of the Mazurkas provides a stark contrast to such indulgence, though once again Szymanowski demonstrates sufficient resource to hold you entranced through a sequence of 20 dances.

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This complete survey, recorded during the early Nineties, presents the music in roughly chronological order of composition and offers a marvellous opportunity to witness the evolution of one of the most individual voices in early 20th-century music. Martin Jones is a persuasive interpreter mastering the blistering piano writing of the Second Sonata with consummate ease, though Nimbus’s recording doesn’t always serve his cause, sounding a little brittle in the upper registers. Erik Levi