ALBUM TITLE: Szymanowski: Stabat Mater; Harnasie
WORKS: Stabat Mater; Harnasie
PERFORMER: Lucy Crowe (soprano), Ramela Helen Stephen (mezzo), Robert Murray (tenor), Gábor Bretz (baritone); BBC Symphony Chorus & Orchestra/Edward Gardner
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA5123
It is tempting to describe this wonderful new release as consisting of Szymanowski’s two great choral works – except for the fact that Harnasie is really a ballet, with rapturously intense scoring that calls for chorus, tenor soloist and large orchestra. Sometimes described as ‘the Polish Rite of Spring’, Harnasie is rooted in the folk mythology of Poland’s southern Tatra mountains, but it is never folksy. Szymanowski always resisted the notion of nationalism in music, yet the completion of Harnasie in 1931 was his most decisive step in moving away from his earlier orientalism.
Once again, Edward Gardner shows that he excels in Szymanowski’s rich orchestral tapestries. This performance mixes wild mystery with coruscating brilliance, somehow managing – despite being recorded in Croydon last winter – to breath the high-mountain air. Robert Murray’s bright tenor carries emotion in his plaintive solos, and the BBC Symphony Chorus sings with full-throated vigour at the climax of the Mountaineers’ Dance.
Slightly earlier but still belonging to the composer’s late period – which coincided with the establishment of a free Poland – the Stabat Mater (1925-6) is Szymanowski’s sacred masterpiece. For all its introverted modesty, it packs an expressive punch here. All three vocal soloists are strong, yet it is especially the soprano Lucy Crowe who captures the radiant mysticism of the music, not least in the final movement where her performance supports Szymanowski’s opinion of it as being ‘the most beautiful melody I have ever managed to write’.