Szymanowski: Symphony No. 2; Concert Overture; Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin; Slopiewnie

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COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Concert Overture; Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin; Slopiewnie
PERFORMER: Zofia Kilanowicz (soprano); LPO/Leon Botstein
CATALOGUE NO: CD-80567
This disc provides a potentially attractive survey of the musical switchback of Szymanowski’s career. At one end there’s the 1906 Concert Overture, a work almost more Straussian than Strauss in its Don Juan-like thrusts and surges, and at the other the neo-classical, Stravinskian Wordsong (Slopiewnie), written in 1928. In between, Szymanowski peps up the image of Reger in his Second Symphony of 1910 and indulges in his passion for oriental exoticism in the four Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin. If you thought this suggests a composer without his own distinctive voice, you would be wrong. Through all this multifarious procession of styles and genres there’s a consistency of harmonic adventurousness, textural voluptuousness and the sense of being the product of a single mind.

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Until barely 20 years ago, the only recordings of Szymanowski’s orchestral music available were acoustically challenged versions made in Poland. The first Western recording didn’t arrive until Decca recorded the Second and Third Symphonies in Detroit with Antal Dorati, which set new levels in the capturing of the composer’s sometimes fragile, sometimes overpowering sound-world on disc. That recording remains a strong contender, though since usurped, I feel, by Vassily Sinaisky’s opulent recordings for Chandos and even by the Polish State Philharmonic of Katowice in the Naxos reissues of the Eighties Marco Polo recordings. But all these seem more involved in the music than this new disc. The LPO plays marvellously for Leon Botstein, but there’s an emotional detachment just where you don’t want it, in the more Romantic episodes of the Symphony and Overture. There have also been more fluid, secure accounts of the two song cycles than Zofia Kilanowicz brings. Matthew Rye