Szymanowski: Mazurkas, Opp. 50 & 62; Valse romantique; Four Polish Dances

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COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Mazurkas, Opp. 50 & 62; Valse romantique; Four Polish Dances
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67399

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One of the most impressive aspects of Szymanowski’s career was the composer’s ability to reinvent himself. His last transformation, dating from the early Twenties, saw him constructing himself as a Polish nationalist cultivating a style remote from the more evanescent musical language of his previous two decades.

Almost inevitably for a Polish composer, Szymanowski was an ardent admirer of Chopin, an admiration which translates into concrete terms in his 20 Mazurkas, Op. 50. Interestingly, while homage is paid to his great predecessor, most notably in No. 14 of the set, Szymanowski’s use of modal inflections and occasional harsh dissonance emphasise the national qualities which Chopin himself employed.

Despite the necessary limitations of the genre, there is enormous variety to be found in this collection: No. 1 looks back to Szymanowski’s fascination with Debussy, while the second shows the fully fledged nationalist experimenting with a percussive use of the keyboard. The gathering of other dances, including the Two Mazurkas, Op. 62 – Szymanowski’s last completed works – round off this survey of the composer’s nationalist piano music.

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Marc-André Hamelin is a near-ideal advocate of this repertoire; alive to every nuance in these scores, including the occasional, near-improvisatory moments, he externalises the rich variety of these remarkable pieces. Jan Smaczny