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Karol Szymanowski
Complete Songs for voice and piano

vol. 1 Piotr Beczala tenor
vol. 2 Juliana Gondek soprano
vol. 3 Urzula Kryger mezzo soprano
vol. 4 Iwona Sobotka soprano
all with Reinild Mees , piano

Channel Classics CCS 19398 4 cd box



Six Songs (K. Tetmajer) Op.2; Three Fragments from Poems by Jan Kasprowicz Op.5; The Swan (Berent) Op.7; Four Songs (Miciski) Op.11; Soldiers' Songs; Five Songs; Op.13; Three Songs (D. Dawydov) Op.32; Colourful Songs (Bulcke, Paquet, Faktor, Ritter, Huch) Op.22; Songs of the Infatuated Muezzin (Iwaszkiewicz) Op.42; Seven Songs (James Joyce) Op.54; Kurpian Songs Op.58; Six Songs (Miciski) Op.20; Love Songs of Hafis (Bethge) Op.24; Das Grab des Hafis (Bethge) Op.posth.; Four Songs (Tagore) Op.41; Twelve Songs (Dehmel, Mombert, Falke, Greif) Op.17; Songs of the Fairy Princess (Z.Szymanowska) Op.31; Slopiewnie (Tuwim) Op.46; Three Lullabies (Iwaszkiewicz) Op.48; Children's Rhymes (Illakowicz) Op.49; Vocalise-Étude 36 Samotny ksi´Þyc Op.31 No .1

This release is important as making newly available a huge corpus of some 120 songs by Poland's greatest composer of his time. It will be indispensible for libraries and for the singing departments of music colleges.

For the ordinary collector there are reservations, as commonly with intégrales. The discs are none of them suitable for playing straight through because hearing the same voice for an hour or more can dull listening alertness. Given that the pianist is the same, better CDs could have been made by ordering them differently. But with much of the material never recorded before, this 4 CD box contains a treasury of ravishing songs, and at c.£33 (Amazon UK) it is reasonable value for internet purchasers.

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) was something of a chameleon, changing his style as suited him and drawing widely upon international literature for texts. I am more in tune with his later music and found some of the earlier songs less to my taste; his more luxuriant music risks cloying the palate.

Piotr Beczala draws the short straw. He is a well endowed Polish opera singer (and all the singers boast impressive CVs) but I found monotony soon set in and, with many of the songs romantically gloomy, he comes perilously close to Gigli sobs.

It is good to have a group in English to James Joyce's Chamber Music texts for a change, put across with excellent diction by the Polish/American soprano Juliana Gondek, who is lucky to have been alotted the characterful Kurpian Songs with their spare, rhythmic accompaniments.

Szymanowski's fascination with orientalism is more rewarding than the German-inspired collections, and his impressionistic cycles on oriental themes make for some of the best listening. I enjoyed mezzo Urszula Kryger in translations of poems by Tagore and the harmonically strong Lovesongs of Hafiz.

Soprano Iwona Sobotka (1st prize winner of the prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition 2004) has all the charm and high coloratura skills needed for the Songs of the Fairy-Tale Princess. But don't listen to all her 36 songs straight through. She is charming in the Children's Rhymes Op 49, of which I produced the first complete recording, for LP back in the latest '60s.

Richard Fairman, in Gramophone, writes "young Iwona Sobotka - - makes a lively job of the miniature Children’s Rhymes Op 49, even if a few of those go rather a long way". For comparison, and to hear Szymanowski in a completely different context, hear a few of Illakowicz's Children's Rhymes sung by a real child; maybe then you'll want to hear them all?

Dutch pianist Reinild Mees goes in for intégrales. She partners all the singers and has recorded the complete songs of Ottorino Respighi & Franz Schreker already and is working her way through all the Schumann song cycles. She leaves you in no doubt that the piano parts are far more than 'accompaniments' and her sterling contribution helps to convince that much of this repertoire is well worth investigating.

Karol Szymanowski: Songs Op. 49 & 31
Children's Rhymes (20), Op. 49
Songs of a Fairytale Princess, Op. 31

Anna Mikolajczyk (soprano), Edward Wolanin (piano)

Dux 0547

There are two recordings of the Fairytale Princess songs currently available on CD, Sobotka's probably to be preferred, but only available in a boxed set (see above).
Both singers make a good case for the Children's Rhymes, but I must declare an interest, and would urge you to listen to them sung in impeccable Polish by "a real boy", and draw your attention to the first complete recording from the '60s, which is accessible on line and due for re-release shortly.

“Anna Maikolajczyk is particularly effective in the more mellifluous moments of the Fairy-tale Princess songs in this well recorded performance, indeed her first entrance is quite exquisite. But… there are moments when the vocal quality lets the interpretation down...” BBC Music Magazine


© Peter Grahame Woolf