Szymanowski: Symphonies 2 & 4

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Szymanowski: Symphonies 2 & 4
WORKS: Concert Overture, Op. 12; Symphonies 2 & 4
PERFORMER: Louis Lortie (piano); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA5115

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Hard on the heels of Andris Nelsons’s intermittently powerful performance of the Leningrad (see previous review) comes this fascinating studio recording from Valery Gergiev made last summer with the Mariinsky Orchestra. It’s of course not the first time the conductor has committed this monumental work to disc, his previous version on Philips featuring the combined forces of the Mariinsky and Rotterdam Philharmonic in a live performance from 2003.

Direct comparison between Gergiev’s two performances is instructive. Although there are elements of the interpretation that offer obvious similarities in approach, in particular the conductor’s capacity to extract great emotional tension from the reflective and introvert moments in the score, Gergiev is in even more expansive mood here with very few passages projecting the kind of brute-force energy normally associated with this Symphony. The exceedingly slow tempo he adopts for the outer sections of the second movement Moderato, lasting a staggering two and a half minutes longer than the earlier performance, might well strike some people as being excessively mannered. Yet such is the poignancy and sensitivity with which Gergiev shapes the world-weary melodies that I was immediately won over. Equally controversial is the slow tempo Gergiev adopts for the second half of the Finale. There’s always a danger that after the bluster and violent energy of the opening paragraph, the ensuing music seems aimless and discursive, a criticism which can be certainly levelled at the rather static impression of the Philips release. Here, however, Gergiev exerts a much tauter control over proceedings, the inexorable tread of the sarabande rhythm achieving mesmeric cumulative power which is helped in no small measure by the superbly responsive orchestral playing and the tremendous dynamic range of the recording.

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Erik Levi