Barbara Karaskiewicz Karol Szymanowski: Piano Music

review barbara szymanowski x1 cong

This is a nice autumn CD of piano music; the fact that it’s outstanding music played well, we’ll take as a given.

Szymanowski is described in the sleeve notes as one of the most important Polish composers of the 20th century. The sleeve notes are extensive and well written, but the relevant information for those wanting a CD of piano music are that he was from an intellectual background, and was fascinated by Frédéric Chopin. Though he’s claimed as a Polish composer, he was born into a wealthy land-owning Polish family living in the village of Tymoszówka, then in the Kiev Governorate of the Russian Empire. So: intelligent music that’s inspired by Chopin, and with the sadness of Mother Russia in places. He was also influenced by the impressionism of Claude Debussy, and Maurice Ravel, and this last point offers the main contrast to the other piano music we’ve reviewed recently. Whereas that was stirring and complex, this is more atmospheric and suggestive, gentle even.

Karaskiewicz has selected pieces from across Szymanowski’s career.

His early years were influenced by the late Romantic German school, then he developed a more impressionistic and partially atonal style; his third period was influenced by Polish folk music.

Nine Preludes, op.1 were written when he was 18 and were immediately praised by “astonished” listeners at their first public presentation, say the notes. They’re Romantic and reflective.

The Four Études op.4, came later and are based on Chopin but more complex. Masques op.34 followed visits to Islamic centres (titles include Scheherazade), though they’re not noticeably Eastern in sound, more like Ravel. They are more complex and livelier than the earlier pieces, and highly expressive.

The final selection is Two Mazurkas, op.62, which close the catalogue of the composer’s work and were written late in his life.

Of one he wrote: “I wrote a very pleasant and cheerful mazurka, which I really like to play. The funny thing is that I write actually more and more bright music at my old age!”

Again, the sound is more impressionistic of the feel of folk than actual any kind of folk dance (and cheerful is perhaps not a word you would apply).

Out on Divine Art, dda 25151.

About jerobear

Weekly newspaper editor in Cheshire, England. I blog my editorials and the CDs I write about. I play drums, drink coffee, play music, meditate. I hate filling in forms.

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