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Szymanowski Focus
Curated by Piotr Anderszewski

(1) Szymanowski String Quartet No.1; Myths, op.30; Slopiewnie, op.46b

Janáček In the mists (1912))

Bartók String Quartet No 1

(2) Janácek Violin Sonata
Szymanowski Metopes Op. 29
Schumann Märchenbilder Op. 113
Szymanowski Songs of a Fairy Princess Op. 31; String Quartet No. 2 Op. 56

Henning Kraggerud
Iwona Sobotka
Piotr Anderszewski
Belcea Quartet
(Corina Belcea–Fisher – Laura Samuel (violins), Krzysztof Chorzelski (viola), Antoine Lederlin (cello)

Wigmore Hall, 5 & 7 May 2010

These two concerts, under the title Szymanowski Focus, gave us the chance to hear some of the later works of the Polish composer, which we seldom hear in concert, together with two pieces by Janáček and the, somewhat strange, addition of Bartók and Schumann.


The Janáček works were well chosen. In the Mists displays the more restrained composer, although there are several almost violent outbursts, full of the kind of typical lyricism one expects from him. The Violin Sonata is a different matter, being dramatic and exciting, and whilst exploiting the smallest hints of themes he manages to create a work which is wholly compelling and satisfying. Kraggerud and Anderszewski were always in control of the bizarre ebb and flow of the piece, making it speak clearly to the audience.


The six works by Szymanowski were well chosen to show how his late romantic style moved through orientalism, exoticism and eroticism into a more folk based music. The suite for solo piano, Metopes, shows a rich vein of elusive lyricism, coupled with the thickest of harmonic thought, and it makes for a difficult listen for there is much going on as the music races past you. The Myths, for violin and piano, whilst showing elements of Szymanowski’s exoticism tries hard to move forwards and establish a cleaner, less cluttered style. This is a fine piece, which requires a strong sense of purpose from the performers so as not to spoil the delicate writing for the soaring violin, which was played with consummate artistry by Henning Kraggerud, as transcendental here as he was violent and dramatic in the Janáček Sonata.


Iwona Sobotka, who had contributed one of the discs to Channel Classics Complete Szymanowski Songs boxed set, took on two of Szymanowski’s most complicated song cycles. The six Songs of a Fairy Princess are more concerned with displays of almost mad scene concentration than with the somewhat simpler emotions of the words. Wild vocalise frames the texts, words which allowed him his musical flights of fancy. The settings of almost nonsense words in Slopiewnie are more restrained but there’s still a tortuous vocal line. In both works, it’s the exoticism of the music which is of paramount importance and Ms Sobotka was magnificent in conveying the ecstasy of the music, never putting a foot wrong in her delight in the adventures given her [Pictured above in the splendid gown she wore at Wigmore hall].


Szymanowski’s two String Quartets boo-k ended this Focus, and the contrast between the two works couldn’t be missed for the first is almost classical in utterance whilst the second is well on the way to his late, folk derived style. The Belcea Quartet gave exemplary performances of both pieces, allowing the music to breathe and slowly reveal its secrets. The Belcea Quartet is a very fine ensemble which just gets better and better.


Bartók’s 1st Quartet didn’t feel to be right, at the end of a long first concert amidst the heated music heard before it. Schumann’s Märchenbilder is a lovely piece but not one which sat well between Szymanowski’s hothouse garlands. Kraggerud played the Schumann on the viola, and what a fine violist he is, but both works were unnecessary within the scheme of this Szymanowski Focus.


Overall, great performances of great music which we hear too seldom, partly because of its fearsome difficulties.


BBC Radio 3 recorded both concerts for broadcast on 6 and 12 July 2010 respectively.


David Bird


Dal Segno has re-released both String Quartets - Carmina Quartet (1992)
Coupled with Schoek's Notturno - Olaf Bar, but that is without texts or translations.
DSPRCD056 [Editor]