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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Concert Overture in E major, Op. 12 (1905) [13:52]
Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 15 (1907)1 [18:40]
Symphony No. 4 ‘Symphonie Concertante’, Op. 60 (1932)2 [28:03]
Study in B flat minor, Op. 4 No. 3 (1902) (arr. orch. Grzegorz Fitelberg) [6:43]
Jan Krzysztof Broja2 (piano); Ewa Marczyk1,2 (violin), Marek Marczyk (viola)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. 1, 2, 4 August 2006 (overture), 2-3 January 2008 (first symphony), 4-5 September 2007 (fourth symphony and study), Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, Poland
NAXOS 8.570722 [67:18]

Experience Classicsonline

‘Another triumph for Maestro Wit and his busy Warsaw band’, I wrote in my review of Szymanowski’s Second and Third symphonies. At least we haven’t had to wait too long for the First and Fourth, one still evolving musically; the other a good example of the composer’s settled, more mature style. And then there are the fillers, which make for a logical, well-balanced programme.

So, how do you out-Strauss Strauss? Well, Szymanowski does it rather well with the rampant brass and thrilling amplitude of his Concert Overture. In a blind test I wonder how many people would think they were listening to Don Juan? Yes, the piece may be derivative but it’s much more than just a pale imitation. Szymanowski certainly captures the excitement of a large orchestra in full spate, Wit working the sluice gates for all he’s worth. Ideally the sound could be broader and go deeper but I was quiet content to be swept along by the Straussian flood. A cracking piece and a fine start to this disc.

The First Symphony is built on the same generous lines as the overture - the opening of the first movement is a mix of Wagner and Strauss - but underneath those harmonies one might discern something more unyielding. It seems the composer was becoming less enchanted with - and by - late German Romanticism, so perhaps it’s not surprising that under those surging climaxes there are tougher rhythms at work; sample the passage in the first movement that begins at 5:38, for instance.

Beneath the tumult of the second movement are the usual Straussian tunes, but what really impresses here is Wit’s unerring pace and sense of structure, both of which make the symphony ‘hang together’ most convincingly.. This is a work that cries out for a full-bodied recording, preferably on SACD, but the only other version I can find in the catalogue is another Naxos release, also from Poland (8.553683).

As for the Fourth Symphony it inhabits a different sound world entirely - listen to the timp strokes and spiky piano tune at the start of the first movement. There are the same eruptive passages, which alternate with writing of unexpected inwardness and lyricism. The pianist, Jan Krzysztof Broja, is well placed and recorded, and the engineers have done a splendid job capturing the work’s more unusual sonorities; just sample the strange, twilight passage that begins at 5:58. I did feel the sound lacked weight in the overture but it’s more than acceptable here, with plenty of breadth and depth.

The recording is just as impressive in the quiet, almost imperceptible, opening to the second movement. This is music of rare tranquillity, underpinned by the gentlest of pulses; that said, the piano ushers in a more assertive central section that builds to a broad, well-proportioned climax (no empty rhetorical flourishes here). In the music that follows the flute and piano are particularly alluring, the latter signing off with a short downward phrase that takes us straight into the martial Allegro. These are the insistent rhythms and rougher textures we hear in Harnasie, for instance, a world away from the overstuffed music of Strauss and Wagner. Surely this is much closer in sound - and spirit - to Prokofiev, especially in those glittering piano figures and orchestral gallop to the finish.

The Study in B flat minor inhabits another world again. Orchestrated by the Polish conductor Grzegorz Fitelberg (1879-1953) it’s a wisp of a thing, light, airy and most sensitively played by the Warsaw band. It’s a perfect coda to a rewarding programme and proof, if it were needed, that Maestro Wit and his orchestra are setting new standards in this repertoire.

A splendid addition to what is now an indispensable cycle.

Dan Morgan


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