‘Another triumph for Maestro Wit and his busy Warsaw band’,
I wrote in my review
Szymanowski’s Second and Third symphonies.
At least we haven’t had to wait too long for the First
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
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.