Marek: Rural Scenes, Op. 30; Village Songs, Op. 34; Death Melody; A Look Backwards; Greeting; Polish Hymn

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COMPOSERS: Marek
LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: Rural Scenes, Op. 30; Village Songs, Op. 34; Death Melody; A Look Backwards; Greeting; Polish Hymn
PERFORMER: Elzbieta Szmytka (soprano); Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus/Gary Brain
CATALOGUE NO: 3-6441-2
Koch Schwann’s rediscovery of the Polish late Romantic Czeslaw Marek (1891-1985) has proved a real sensation. I doubt if I shall hear anything more lovely this year than the pure, flute-led ‘Shepherd Song’ (‘Tam za lasem wolki moje’), from Marek’s Rural Scenes cycle, first heard in Warsaw in 1931.

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These two soprano song cycles (Village Scenes dates from 1934) are quite simply enchanting. Elzbieta Szmytka floats her folk-like vocal line with childlike innocence over a gossamer web of impressionistic, refined orchestral textures. Yet again conductor Gary Brain draws wonderfully idiomatic, empathetic playing from the Philharmonia Orchestra – sensitive, responsive, perfectly balanced, and riddled with gorgeous touches of solo woodwind.

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The words, with their sad echoes of young love and war, are as beguiling as any 19th-century German Lied. Brain’s exquisitely judged pacing and subtle shading of these cycles unearths, in music and text alike, rich buried layers of European folk culture (compare Kodály, or Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne). Three male voice settings by Marek complete the picture – although a slightly awkward pinching and cloudiness to the tenor line of the otherwise admirable Philharmonia Chorus is the sole drawback to this mesmerisingly beautiful recording. Roderic Dunnett