Szymanowski Symphonies Nos 3 & 4

Szymanowski Symphonies 3 & 4

In contrast to the first disc in the LSO’s Szymanowski series, this second release is a predominantly vocal affair. The Stabat Mater is framed by the symphonies Nos 3 and 4 and all are conducted by Valery Gergiev with his usual energy.

Written during 1914-16, the third symphony is an example of the exoticism Szymanowski found so seductive at that time. The composer chose Persian poetry as his stimulus for this ten-minute work and the symphony bears the title ‘Song of the Night’. Rapt and atmospheric, the work begins by weaving orchestra and wordless chorus together, putting a solo tenor in relief until all three are united in the final movement as the poet marvels at the stars and planets. (‘This night do not allow your eyes to close and sleep! This night the mystery reveals itself!).

For such a lavish sound painter as Szymanowski, the role of the orchestra in the Stabat Mater (1925) is restrained, laying bare the lines of the solo singers and the chorus. Rather than a traditional latin text, Szymanowski sets a Polish translation by the Polish poet Józef Jankowski. In some performances a Latin text is nonetheless substituted for the more tongue-challenging Polish one – but here we get the real deal from the London Symphony Chorus. The words are pithy and ideally suited to the folk music elements the composer wanted to incorporate into the work, which harks back to his earlier plan to write a ‘peasant requiem’.

Szymanowski also includes archaic touches – modes and parallel fifths - to suggest religious music of an earlier era. For those more familiar with his orchestral and instrumental music, this venture into sacred territory shows another side to the composer’s sensibilities.

The full-blooded Symphony No 4 which concludes the disc is a more earthy experience. Like Symphony No 3 it belies its generic name, and is subtitled ‘Symphonie concertante’ to acknowledge the solo piano which is at its heart. Here the piano is cast in an obbligato role, playing its part in the dense orchestration just as often as it enjoys the solo spot – an interesting challenge for the recording engineers. Only in the last movement – a spirited Polish dance – does it stamp its way emphatically to the front. In this performance Denis Matsuev is the splendid soloist.

James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer

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