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An Eloquent Interpretation

Choral music by
Karol Szymanowski,
enjoyed by

Naxos    8.570724

Karol Szymanowski: Stabat Mater; Veni Creator; Litany to the Virgin Mary. © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

A particular inspiration to Szymanowski was the music of the Tatra mountains in southern Poland, where I stumped around in the snow one Christmas-time. He had a house below in Zakopane now dedicated to his memory. He had wandered much of the Middle East, and in the year of my birth he was offered the directorship of the Cairo Conservatoire, where I spent many a happy hour in converse with Egyptian singers when we wondered about a performance of Aida at the Pyramids. He decided on the Warsaw Conservatoire instead. His much travelling and fascination with many cultures may to some extent have inhibited his originality. His musical language is not instantly recognisable, as is, for instance, that of Elgar, Strauss, or Debussy.

The Stabat Mater is nonetheless a deeply-felt piece, with Polish rather than Latin text. Much of the music is duly contemplative, as Mary Mother suffers with the agony of her dying son. But the two baritone and chorus movements express anger and outrage at the injustice of the situation. The first, in particular, 'Who could possibly refrain from tears ?' is very powerful, sung with splendid conviction by Jaroslaw Brek.

Listen -- Szymanowski: Quis est homo qui non fleret (Stabat Mater)
(track 2, 0:00-0:55) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

The Veni Creator is again in Polish. It was written to celebrate the re-opening in 1930 of the Warsaw Conservatoire as the Warsaw Academy of Music, with Szymanowski as first rector. It begins, therefore, with a burst of ceremonial splendour appropriate to the occasion.

Listen -- Szymanowski: Veni Creator
(track 7, 0:00-1:34) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

The two Greek pieces are earlier. Demeter, the earth-mother, is here also the mother of Dionysus by Zeus (Hesiod has it so). Hence references to her in the Bacchae of Euripides, from which Szymanowski's sister took the text, a moment of repose from the manic violence of the play. The contralto Ewa Marciniec and female chorus give an eloquent interpretation.

Listen -- Szymanowski: Demeter
(track 10, 1:40-3:22) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

With Amazons it is always difficult to know precisely where you are. It is certain that Penthesilea fought for the Trojans against the Greeks. It is usually thought that Achilles became enamoured of her after killing her. In the scene from a Polish play chosen by Szymanowski it is she who is in love with Achilles; hence the soprano Iwona Hossa as protagonist.

Listen -- Szymanowski: Penthesilea
(track 11, 0:36-2:15) © 2008 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Yet again Naxos has produced a fascinating disc of rarely heard music, ably supported by the Warsaw team under Antoni Wit.

Copyright © 11 November 2008 Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt




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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular series of shorter CD reviews