Szymanowski: Complete Piano Music

COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: Divine Art
ALBUM TITLE: Szymanowski
WORKS: Complete Piano Music
PERFORMER: Sinae Lee (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 21400
To take on such a mammoth task

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as the recording of Szymanowski’s

entire piano output requires a performer of exceptional ability,

one that can accommodate the huge

technical demands of the music

whilst elucidating the dramatic

changes in his style with clarity and

conviction. The journey is indeed

challenging, moving from the

passionate Romanticism of the early

works to the exploratory mysticism of

the middle-period Masques, Métopes

and Third Sonata and culminating

in the more austere folk-like idiom of

the late Mazurkas.

On the evidence of these discs,

the Korean Sinae Lee certainly

has the necessary technical ability

to master this repertory; the most

testing passage-work in the 12 Studies

Op. 33 and the fugal Finale of the

Third Sonata pose few difficulties for

her. Likewise, in the early Preludes

and the First Sonata, she projects the

music with a real sense of forward

momentum and intensity, at the same

time managing to bring welcome

transparency of texture to the involved

contrapuntal layering of works such as

the Second Piano Sonata.

Divine Art’s very immediate piano

sound emphasises this drive for

clarity, but is perhaps less helpful in

some of the more ethereal sections

of the middle-period works where

Lee’s tonal variety is never quite as

mercurial or imaginative as that of

Piotr Anderszewski, whose recording

of the Masques and Métopes on EMI

(reviewed Proms 2005) remains

peerless. In the other repertory,

matters however are more even. I

marginally prefer Lee’s heart-onsleeve

approach to the early works in

comparison with the more reserved

conception of Martin Roscoe

(on Naxos), whilst Martin Jones

(Nimbus) is especially convincing in

the Second Sonata. Unfortunately

the recording quality of both the

Jones and Roscoe discs is somewhat

muffled, although this enables

Roscoe in particular to effect a more

atmospheric quality in the reflective

sections of the music.

While Anderszewski remains

the obvious benchmark for the

middle-period works and Marc-

André Hamelin delivers irresistibly

alluring accounts of the Mazurkas

on Hyperion, making a clear choice

among the complete sets is by no

means so straightforward. Roscoe’s

natural musicianship and Naxos’s

bargain price is certainly enticing,

and there is much to savour in

Martin Jones’s playing. However, the

better recording and Lee’s passionate

advocacy of the early music wins the

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day, if only just. Erik Levi