Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The symphonies of Szymanowski


I got curious and checked out my CD of the two symphonies of Karol Szymanowski (see Saturday’s post on “King Roger”).

I have a Marco Polo CD with the Polish State Philharmonic at Katowice, conducted by Karol Stryja, conducting the Symphony #1 in F Minor, Op. 15, amd the Symphony #2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19.  The recording, as were many from Records International and Marco Polo (as had been many from Artia before) were made behind the Iron Curtain before it was pulled open or, as Alfred Hitchcock would have said, “torn”.  I think I found this at Tower Records in DC during the store’s boom time.

The First, completed in 1907, comprises just two movements, totaling twenty minutes and sounds very thick.  It sounds as though the composer had no particular inspiration for a slow movement.

The Second, in 1910, is much more original.  In three movements, it starts gently with a rising theme even marked “grazioso”, but gradually becomes thicker and more impassioned.  The second movement, marked Lento, it just typically postromantic, but the Finale, a fugue, will stay in one’s head. The theme, related to the upwardly mobile figure from the first movement, transforms into a dance-like element that reminds one of the A-minor third movement “scherzo” from Mahler’s Ninth, but the fugal treatment, leading to a tremendous climax at the end, has the exuberance of the double fugue that concludes the Mahler Fifth.  It’s as if Szymanowski wanted to compose another “middle Mahler” symphony, but shorter and more manageable in its details.  

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