Szymanowski: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3 (Song of the Night)

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COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
ALBUM TITLE: Szymanowski
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3 (Song of the Night)
PERFORMER: Ryszard Minkiewicz (tenor);
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir
and Orchestra/Antoni Wit
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570721


Completed in 1910, Szymanowski’s Symphony No. 2 shows him beginning to approach his first maturity as a composer, although still falling under the powerful influences of Strauss and, to a lesser extent, Mahler. Their perceptible presence may explain why the work was received far more positively in Vienna than in Szymanowski’s native Warsaw. By any standards the broadly conceived first movement is impressive for its unashamed Romantic sweep, and Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic deliver a magnificent performance. They are equally good in the ‘Theme and Variations’ which makes up the remainder of the Symphony, putting their performance very much at the top of a rather sparse field. In Symphony No. 3, composed five years later, the mature Szymanowski has arrived. The musical language, occasionally reminiscent of Debussy, is well on the way to the sensual glories of his masterpiece, the opera King Roger. The Symphony is, effectively, a rhapsodic setting for chorus and tenor soloist of verses by the Persian medieval mystic, Jalal ad-Din. Again, this is a very fine performance with all the big structural gestures well judged and the wealth of orchestral detail lovingly etched. The tenor soloist, Ryszard Minkiewicz, formidably experienced as a Szymanowski interpreter, performs magisterially and the choir seems to be in fine voice with some particularly full-throated sound in the alto register. The main problem with this rendition is a recorded balance that clearly favours the orchestra and saps the choral dimension during the climaxes. Were it not for this slight drawback, this performance would certainly equal Jerzy Semkov’s fine account with the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra and Radio Chorus of Krakow on the EMI label. Jan Smaczny