Szymanowski: Love Songs of Hafiz; Songs of a Fairyale Princess; Harnasie

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COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: Szymanowski
WORKS: Love Songs of Hafiz; Songs of a Fairyale Princess; Harnasie
PERFORMER: Iwona Sobotka (soprano), Katarina Karnéus (mezzo-soprano), Timothy Robinson (tenor); City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: 364 4352
A belated addition to Simon Rattle’s

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Szymanowski series for EMI, this

hugely welcome recording – made

on one of the conductor’s return

visits to the CBSO – focuses on

Szymanowski’s late, neglected

masterpiece, the ballet Harnasie.

Completed in 1931 and

sometimes described as the ‘Polish

Rite of Spring’, Harnasie is rooted

in the folk mythology of Poland’s

Tatra mountains. It tells the story of

a Robin Hood-like character who

raids a mountain village to rescue an

unhappy bride from her wedding,

but the score is never folksy. One

reason for the work’s relative

obscurity is that its impractical

demands – in addition to large

orchestra it calls for tenor soloist and

chorus – and it also needs performers

positively soaked in the idiom. As

Szymanowski’s most persuasive

non-Polish champion, Rattle

draws an intoxicating and punchy

performance that could hardly be

bettered. Still, Kazimierz Kord’s

recording with Polish forces on CD

Accord still has the slight edge, for

it more distinctly breathes the highmountain

air.

Szymanowski usually resisted

the notion of nationalism in music,

and Harnasie was his most decisive

step away from the orientalism

he had earlier embraced. That

side of his musical personality

is richly represented in the sets

of songs that frame the ballet.

In 1933 he orchestrated three of

his earlier (1915) six Songs of a

Fairytale Princess, and it is these

that are sung here in glistening tone

by the soprano Iwona Sobotka.

The orchestral writing is no less colourful in his second cycle of Love

Songs of Haifiz, which find Katarina

Karnéus in vibrant voice. For

performances and repertory alike,

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this is an unmissable recording.