This obscure gem recently appeared out of the blue. Harnasie (1931), Karol Symanowski’s “ballet-pantomine in two tableaux,” is vivid, exciting, and achingly lyrical, sometimes all at once. A series of instrumental interludes and songs done in a folk idiom, the composition tells the story of the abduction of a bride on her wedding day by the bandit Harnaś. There are nostalgic paeans to the Tatra mountains and rousing melodies sung by the eager chorus.
Harnasie was Symanowski’s greatest triumph during his lifetime, both with the public and the critics. It’s easy to see why. Listen to cuts 9 and 10, The Wedding, with its infectious rhythms. What well-known piece does it remind you of? Why Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana of course. And when was that written? 1937, a year after the resounding Parisian production of Harnasie. Can we add yet another creative lifting to Orff’s morally ambiguous career? (Why not? He’d plundered Stravinsky’s Les Noces with impunity.) Other pieces on this CD include the lovely and slightly demonic Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess and the erotically charged Love Songs of Hafiz. Katerina Karnéus’ sensuous mezzo voice is just as alluring as those “naked dancing girls” in Dance. Her voice effortlessly leaps upward at the end of Pearls of my Soul, inducing a shiver if you listen closely. And that Drinking Song (second on the disc), with its teasing beat and rapid arpeggios! If I were a carousing man, it’d send me rummaging for my crystal goblet. The final piece, Haifz’ Grave, while ostensibly Persian-themed, sounds more like fin de siècle French music to me: lush, languid, decadent. Pass me the embroidered pillow, and let your eyes drink in the sunset.
— Peter Bates