Szymanowski: Harnasie; Mandragora; Etude in B flat minor, Op. 4/3 (orch. Fitelberg)

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COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Harnasie; Mandragora; Etude in B flat minor, Op. 4/3 (orch. Fitelberg)
PERFORMER: Polish State PO/Karol Stryja
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553686
Although traditionally held to be elusive, Szymanowski’s musical style went through some readily identifiable changes during his 35-year composing career. These two discs from Naxos concentrate on music from his growing maturity, when he had shaken off the influence of Strauss, and from his final period when the national music of Poland provided a powerful stimulus. Both violin concertos on the first disc play continuously, but otherwise are strongly contrasting: the first (1916) rich in post-Romantic harmony and sideways glances at Impressionism, the second (1933) grittier, with a clear native accent. Konstanty Andrzej Kulka is eloquent as a soloist in No. 1 and the Polish State Philharmonic Orchestra plays with idiomatic understanding throughout.

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Harnasie, based on the music and stories common to the Tatra mountains, was the last great success of Szymanowski’s career. Conductor and orchestra are in tune with its vivid colouring, although the chorus is rather more raw than it need be and could have been recorded more closely. Coupled with Mandragora, a pantomime dropped into Molière’s Le bourgeois gentilhomme, complete with pastiche Italianisms and hints of Stravinsky, this issue is appealing, though not on quite the same level as the performances of the violin concertos. Jan Smaczny