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Reviews: Szymanowski: Symphonies 1 & 2 - Gergiev

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Site review by Castor July 22, 2013
Performance:   Sonics:  
The recordings of these two symphonies stem from performances given as part of a series devoted to the music of Szymanowski and Brahms given by Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in the autumn of 2012.

A second disc comprising Szymanowski's 3rd and 4th Symphonies is due to be released in the next few months.

As Valery Gergiev has said, “Szymanowski not only deserves to be widely heard and recognised, but his music also gives us a tremendous opportunity to understand better the development of classical music through the 20th century.” This is a view with which many who have discovered this remarkable Polish composer via performances and recordings of his increasingly popular 1st Violin Concerto would agree, and for that reason alone this disc is to be welcomed.

The two early symphonies are a product of what is generally regarded as Szymanowski's first compositional period when his music was heavily influenced by that of Strauss, Wagner and especially Reger. The two-movement symphony No 1 (1906-1907) is often given a bad press – not least by the composer himself – for its dense orchestration, complex polyphonic textures and overheated late romantic style. Nevertheless the opportunity to judge this work of the 24 year-old composer for one's self in as well-played an account of it as given here should not be overlooked.

The 2nd Symphony (1909-10, rev.1927-36) is again in two movements , but is an altogether more accomplished composition. Especially interesting is the second movement that consists of a theme and 6 variations followed by a lively fugue. Gergiev gives a passionate account of this symphony thanks both to some breathtakingly beautiful solos from individual members of the LSO in the work's slower sections and typically incisive playing in the more lively ones as demonstrated, for example, by the crisp articulation of the 2nd symphony's final fugue.

Unfortunately the dry airless Barbican acoustic is not what this music needs and though the closeness of the microphones does provide much clarity to the sound, the richness of the scoring and refined sensuousness of Szymanowski's music is not conveyed to the listener as it should be. This is a pity as Gergiev's account of this unfamiliar music coupled with the LSO's virtuoso orchestral playing are just what this music needs for wider dissemination.

The commitment of Gergiev's performances are beyond doubt and it will be interesting to see if the next release in the series that exemplify Szymanowski's later and more severe style will be better served by the Barbican recording.

Copyright © 2013 Graham Williams and