Szymanowski: King Roger; Prince Potemkin (incidental music)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: King Roger; Prince Potemkin (incidental music)
PERFORMER: Andrzej Hiolski, Wieslaw Ochman, Barbara Zagórzanka, Henryk Grychnik; Cracow Philharmonic Boys Chorus, Polish State PO & Chorus/Karol Stryja, Polish National RSO/Antoni Wit
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660062-63
It’s no contradiction that while Szymanowski’s masterpiece may be short of drama, it is full of theatrical power. Set in Norman Sicily, the story of conflict between Christian and pagan cultures is evoked in music in which East meets West. The composerown brand of late-Romanticism never cloys – indeed, scenes such as the opening, in Palermo cathedral, have magnificent austerity – at least not in a sympathetic performance like this.

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Recordings of the work are few, and while EMI’s version under Rattle is something to look forward to next year, these Polish forces under the persuasive baton of Karol Stryja will be hard to beat for idiomatic feeling. As often on budget labels, a drawback is the lack of any translation of the libretto, but there is a detailed English synopsis.

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The cast includes several leading Polish singers, with the dark-voiced baritone Andrzej Hiolski as a dignified King Roger; his queen, Roxana, is taken with bright-toned power by Barbara Zagórzanka, and the Shepherd, who turns out to be the personification of Dionysus, is sung with ringing musicianship by the tenor Wieslaw Ochman. Tatra folksong, an influence on King Roger, also features in the composer’s intoxicatingly beautiful incidental music to Prince Potemkin, making the latter an apt filler. John Allison