Szymanowski: Symphony No. 1

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 4 (Symphonie Concertante); Concert Overture, Op. 12
PERFORMER: Jan Krzysztof Broja (piano); Warsaw PO/Antoni Wit
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570722

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The main work on this new release in Naxos’s Szymanowski series is the Symphony No. 4, also known as the Symphonie Concertante for piano and orchestra. 

It receives the slowest recorded performance I know, yet one that works on its own terms – so convincingly that it shows how much interpretative latitude this wonderful piece can take. At the opening, with timpani tolling away underneath, the piano traces a languorously decorative line.

In the middle movement, the flute solo sounds especially dreamy, and the finale, inspired by folk music from the Tatra mountains, takes on raw vigour while allowing the pianist Jan Krzysztof Broja to show his virtuosity.

It would be hard to part with the fine Polish recordings now included in an EMI Gemini set, and most of all with the Simon Rattle-Leif Ove Andsnes version on EMI, but nor would I want to be without this disc.

The Symphonie Concertante is one of the composer’s leaner works, but the same cannot be said for the remaining (and much earlier) pieces here. The powerful Concert Overture owes much to Richard Strauss, and this vividly recorded performance shows how exhilarating it can be.

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Szymanowski himself disowned his First Symphony as a ‘Monstrum kontrapunktyczno-harmoniczno-orchestrowe’, but it is nevertheless well worth hearing, especially when performed – like everything else here – with such conviction by Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic. John Allison