SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

SZYMANOWSKI: Sym. No. 3 ‘Song of the Night;’ Sym. No. 4 ‘Symphonie Concertante’ – Soloists/ Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orch./ Antoni Wit – Naxos Audio-only Blu-ray

An important release, available on both audio-only Blu-ray and video DVD with 5.1 sound.

Published on April 3, 2012

SZYMANOWSKI: Symphony No. 3 ‘Song of the Night;’ Symphony No. 4 ‘Symphonie Concertante’ – Ryszard Minkiewicz, tenor/ Jan Krzysztof Broja, piano/ Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orch./ Antoni Wit – Naxos Audio-only Blu-ray NBD0022 (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) ****:

Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) has long been regarded as the next greatest Polish composer after Frédéric Chopin. Living in Warsaw during a culturally transforming period at the end of the nineteenth century, Szymanowski’s early compositions have a musical language that can largely be traced from influences of Chopin, Scriabin, Wagner, and Richard Strauss. For example his Variations in B Flat Minor (Op. 3), a set of theme and 12 variations dedicated to his compatriot friend and pianist Arthur Rubinstein, reflects qualities of the dance-forms like the Mazurkas and Polonaises that Szymanowski inherited from his Polish predecessor. Szymanowski’s mid-to-late works, those largely composed after the First World War, have styles and motivic idioms that migrate from late-Romanticism into the domains of Impressionism, Oriental and Mediterranean cultures. Influences of French colours from Debussy and Ravel, as well as rhythmic complexities of Bartók and Stravinsky, are structurally unique in Szymanowski’s later compositions.

Compositions featured in this album, the Symphony No. 3 (Op. 27) and Symphony No. 4 (Op. 60), fall into these categories and are characterized by their strong Polish folk idioms. The latest Naxos audio-only Blu-ray, with Polish conductor Antoni Wit and his Polish team of soloists and orchestral musicians of the Warsaw Philharmonic, highlight these elements in their most apt and natural of ways.

The Symphony No. 3 ‘Song of the Night’ was completed in 1916, shortly after the war. Szymanowski immersed himself in the literature of the Ancient Greeks and the religious texts of Christianity and Islam for the conception of this work. Emotional, even ecstatic music conveys the poem’s supernatural vision of night and its unravelling of the mystery of God. Antoni Wit and his musicians emerged victorious with the aid of Naxos’ DTS-HD lossless audio. The human elements of ecstasy and fantasy, as Szymanowski portrayed with his exotic orchestration of wind instruments in the center section of the piece, immersed right out of the Warsaw Philharmonic concert hall in fine acoustics; it is captured sufficiently similar to what one may experience in person in a live concert performance at the Warsaw venue. The sumptuous orchestration and interwoven harmony aptly remind listeners of Szymanowski’s influences from Debussy, and invites comparison to the latter’s “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune” as a possible musical reference behind the mode of orchestration of this Symphony.

The Symphony No. 4 “Symphonie Concertante,” for piano and orchestra, was written late in the composer’s life in 1932. One may expect this piece to be mournful in nature, written only to be five years short of the composer’s death at 55. In contrast, with a delightful twist, Szymanowski brings a breath of new life in the piece, probing deep into the framework of neoclassicism. It is a work which the composer himself calls “clear, transparent, like Mozart.” It conveys endless creativity, beginning with the very concept of a symphony-concerto hybrid, to the multitude of dance-folded rhythms and innovative contemporary innovations as examples. Out of the three movement work, the final movement, Allegro non troppo, ma agitato ed ansioso in this performance with pianist Jan Krzysztof Broja, shines off with the greatest delight. With this movement’s expressionistic sweeps of melodic interchange between the piano and the orchestra, Broja brings a calm intensity and secures the technically demanding virtuosic piano parts; meanwhile, Wit and his musicians give soaring textures and voluptuous outbursts that are audaciously powerful but never overwhelming. The outcome of this collaboration brings a performance that is accurate with repeated blazes of energy and soaring intensity.

A superbly filmed video rendition of these two performances is also available on ICA Classics, #5017 from performances given in 2009, and will be useful for readers to append the audio with a visual documentation of the same pianist and orchestral musicians in action. Whether you enjoy the audio in Naxos Blu-ray Audio or the 16:9 format in video (with standard DTS 5.1 sound) by ICA Classics, these are performances you would not want to miss!

—Patrick P.L. Lam

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