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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Piano Music: Nine Preludes Op. 1 (1899-1900) [19.03]; Variations in B flat minor Op. 3 (1901) [11.52]; Etude in B flat minor Op. 4 no. 3 (1901) [4.26]; Métopes Op. 29 (1915) [18.06]; Mazurkas Op. 50 nos. 1-4 (1924-5) [8.50]
Eri Iwamoto (piano)
rec. Polish Radio Studio 1, 29-31 January 2008. DDD
ACTE PRÉALABLE AP 0182 [62.25]

Experience Classicsonline


Szymanowski is getting to be much better known and enjoyed all over the world. That said one still feels safest when listening an expert at the keyboard - someone who has studied most if not all of his oeuvre and, most importantly, loves it.

In pianist, Eri Iwamoto we have just the right candidate as the booklet essay on how she came to play the music in the first place, recounts. She won the Milosz Magin International Piano Competition in Paris in 2005 taking a prize for the best performance of a work by Karol Szymanowski. She writes “The power with which the composer speaks deeply into the heart of the listener and performer fascinated me”. She adds “I elected to devote myself to his music”. Later we are told that she even “settled in Warsaw, at Krucza Street where the nineteen year old Szymanowski had lived in 1901” and that she “had an impression that the rhythm of the Mazurkas was hovering in the air”. The works featured here represent a very personal choice by this pianist. Yet they make a very convincing chronological programme.

The disc opens with the warm-hearted Nine Preludes. These short pieces are quite varied. Each quickly establishes a mood and atmosphere. These are romantic utterances composed one feels, with Chopin not too far away. They are mostly slow but one, number four, is a quite violent but brief outburst. Each is in a minor key. I have heard them performed elsewhere but never as beautifully as this. Their moods are perfectly captured.

There are however two aspects of this CD I can’t get on with. One is the Variations Op. 3 which seems characterless compared with the composer’s normal output and has an overweight bombastic ending. The other is Iwamoto’s rather fast and, it seems to me, insensitive rendition of the famous Etude Op. 4 no. 3. Some of you might know it in its gorgeously coloured and romantic orchestral version by Grzegorz Fitelberg (1879-1953).

Mentioning Chopin one thinks of Mazurkas. Szymanowski wrote a considerable number of these. Most pianists, as here, select one or two or make a group. But don’t expect Chopin. These pieces cannot at all be danced to. They have a strain of uncertainty and often, melancholy as if probing beyond the restrictions of form and harmony. Especially striking is the last recorded here: the Op. 50 no. 4, marked risoluto, with its striving and anxiously rising melody.

The other work on this disc is quite different, ‘Métopes’. This is, what the booklet calls, a suite of three movements – Isle of Sirens, Calypso and Nausicaa. If you have concluded from the titles that they have a classical Greek basis then you are right. A ‘métope’ is an architectural term meaning a frieze decorating the exterior of a building. Nausicaa alludes to Homer’s ‘Odyssey’. This is the most advanced music on the CD and would have appeared very modern in 1915. It is post-impressionist, with a form and a tonality each of which is impossible to pin down. The rhythms are so complex that they appear to be free-floating. Although the notes do not mention him, Scriabin comes to my mind and, oddly enough so does Cyril Scott. The problem is that all three movements seem to be very similar in harmony, melody and rhythm. The third begins in a lullaby-type compound time but even that soon evaporates. It builds to a climax and dies away in a style quite different from its opening. Iwamoto is brilliant in these pieces. She captures the elusive mood, yet brings out the inner detail never however to the detriment of the texture as a whole. Pedalling is of prime importance in these pieces but you never notice it. Her whole performance is of one effortless virtuosity.

On visiting Warsaw a few years ago I went to the baroque Holy Cross Church just a mile out of the old city - to where Szymanowski lies buried. Like almost all of the city the church was virtually entirely destroyed but has rebuilt exactly as it was. Curiously however one of the few things not destroyed or badly affected by the enemy action was the Szymanowski memorial next to the heart burial of Chopin. The Polish people are incredibly proud of their musical sons.

Gary Higginson


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