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An Overwhelming Intensity

String Quartets by
Szymanowski and Rózycki,
appreciated by

Hyperion    CDA67684

Szymanowski and Rózycki String Quartets. © 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd

The three string quartets on this disc highlight not only the different aesthetic and cultural moments of early 20th century Polish music, but they also demonstrate the great musical riches of Central European works emanating from the years between 1880 and 1937 -- a period which is still almost untapped.

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) was an eclectic explorer and experimenter, an original with an amazingly acute ear. By contrast, Ludomir Rózycki (1884-1953) pursued a less adventurous path, but his naturally strong craftsmanship and compositional invention remained mainly attached to the conservatism of the late Romantic era.

Szymanowski's two quartets were written ten years apart (1917 and 1927). Both are cast in three movements and both are marvelously succinct in gesture and form.

Listen -- Szymanowski: Lento assai; Allegro moderato (String Quartet No 1)
(track 1, 0:03-1:19) © 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd

They both use extended tonality and a broad harmonic palette with sudden shifts of tempo and with texture a constant feature throughout. The opening movement of the first track, marked 'Lento assai -- Allegro moderato', mirrors all these diverse moods, and here Szymanowski creates powerfully episodic music that has a strong thematic structure.

I was also particularly impressed by the Second Quartet's second movement, Vivace Scherzando, a four minute piece of extraordinary force and power which really sweeps you off your feet.

Listen -- Szymanowski: Vivace Scherzando (String Quartet No 2)
(track 8, 2:51-3:54) © 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd

Rózycki's quartet is written on a large scale and displays all the virtues of the late-Romantic idiom with roving key areas and chromatic intensification. The final Allegro showcases all the exuberant qualities with which the work is permeated.

Listen -- Rózycki: Allegro (String Quartet Op 49)
(track 6, 1:02-2:05) © 2008 Hyperion Records Ltd

The interpretations by the Polish String Quartet are of the highest quality throughout, filled with an overwhelming intensity which the music fully deserves. The adrenalin generated leaves one almost breathless. This is a splendid disc focusing on some gripping but still neglected repertoire which deserves to be much better known and certainly more appreciated.

Copyright © 12 March 2009 Gerald Fenech, Gzira, Malta




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