Friday 16 June 2017

Karol Szymanowski: Stabat Mater & more from Warsaw

Szymanowski - Warner Classics - Warsaw Philharmonic
Karol Szymanowski Litany to the Virgin Mary, Stabat Mater, Symphony No. 3; Aleksandra Kurzak, Agnieszka Rehlis, Dmitry Korchak, Artur Rucinski, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Jacek Kaspszyk; Warner Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 13 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Gorgeous textures, and wonderful style

This disc of music by Karol Szymanowski is in reverse date order, so that we start with the late Litany to the Virgin Mary which shares elements of its sound-world with the Stabat Mater, and then we finish with the earlier Symphony No. 3 where the elegance of Szymanowski's late style gives way to luxuriant elegance. Jacek Kaspszyk directs the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir with soloists Aleksandra Kurzak, Agnieszka Rehlis, Dmitry Korchak and Artur Rucinski on Warner Classics.

Written in 1933, Karol Szymanowski's Litany to the Virgin Mary was intended to be a setting of a seven-stanza poem by Jerzy Liebert (1904-1931) for soprano and orchestra. But illness prevented him from setting the full poem and he left only stanzas three and six, to form a short (a little over eight minutes) but powerful work. Aleksandra Kurzak sings with a gorgeous sense of line, supported by Kaspszyk and the orchestra, to bring out the richness and elegance of Szymanowski's late style, economical, melancholy and very powerful.

The larger scale Stabat Mater from 1926 lives in the same sound-world.
Szymanowski created this using a distinctive combination of conventional tonality, modal passages and folk influence, to which Szymanowski adds a very particular intensity, relating to the Polish Catholic tradition of Lenten lamentation. Across the six movements, Szymanowski explores the meditations of the Virgin on Christ on cross with a peculiar intensity. Szymanowski's musical style here has luxuriance of melodic invention, the long undulating lines, which combine with a sparseness of orchestration to create a peculiarly distinctive and powerful effect.

Kaspszyk really bring out the powerful and concentrated feel for the music, giving us a secure sense of style and a reflection of the music's religious intensity. It is a performance not without drama and full of beautifully realised passages of orchestration, matched by the choir and orchestra to create some stunning textures. Perhaps the biggest advantage of the performance is the way Kaspszyk allows the various influences to tell in the music, whilst making Szymanowski's voice speak for itself.

The final work, Szymanowski's Symphony No.3 'The Song of the Night' for tenor solo, choir and orchestra (1914-1916) is more consciously luxuriant in its expression, clearly Art Nouveau in inspiration the gorgeous textures owe something to Debussy, Scriabin and Richard Strauss, but could not be by anyone else. The performance is hypnotically beautiful, rendering Szymanowski's ravishing textures with moments of great beauty.

There is an excellent booklet note about the music, along with performer biographies, but there are not texts or translations.

This is an ideal disc for anyone interested in exploring Szymanowski's music. Jacek Kaspszyk and his forces perform Szymanowski's music with a superb combination of technical skill and assurance of style, ensuring that the gorgeous textures speak emotionally too.

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) - Litany to the Virgin Mary, Op. 59
Karol Szymanowski - Stabat Mater, Op. 53
Karol Szymanowski - Symphony No. 3 'Song of the Night' Op.27
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir

Aleksandra Kurzak (soprano)
Agnieszka Rehlis (mezzo-soprano)
Dmitry Korchak (tenor)
Artur Rucinski (baritone)
Jacek Kaspszyk (conductor)
Recorded at Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall, 16-18 June 2015
Available from Amazon.
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