Szymanowski: Mazurkas, Opp. 50 & 62

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COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: Dux
ALBUM TITLE: Szymanowski: Mazurkas
WORKS: Mazurkas, Opp. 50 & 62
PERFORMER: Anna Kijanowska (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 417
Unlike such overtly extravagant and hyper-Romantic middle-period piano works as the Masques and Métopes, Szymanowski’s late Mazurkas mark a rediscovery of the composer’s Polish roots. Although Chopin’s towering figure looms large in the background, the sequence of dances establishes a very personal voice from the outset, absorbing the folk music of Zakopane and Tatra mountain regions in music that alternates moods of reflection and inwardness with those of primeval energy and exhilaration. Within this broad framework, Szymanowski manages to hold the listener’s attention throughout the 22 dances. Far from being a limitation, the constant three-in-a-bar pulse exerts an almost hypnotic spell, as the composer seeks ever more ingenious ways of effecting contrast in his musical invention.

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Polish pianist Anna Kijanowska has made a detailed academic study of these works relating them in particular to their folk-music models. Her fluid and intuitive playing, rhythmically pungent in the more energetic Op. 50 Nos 6, 7 and 16 as well as dreamily introspective in the more florid Op. 62 set, reflects an instinctive understanding of the idiom. A rival recording from Marc-André Hamelin on Hyperion may provide greater refinement and variety of touch and also includes Four Polish Dances and the Valse Romantique for good measure. But the authentic approach of Kijanowska is certainly persuasive, particularly as the recording quality is very acceptable indeed. Erik Levi