SZYMANOWSKI: Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35; Symphony No. 3 “Song of the Night,” Op. 27 – Christian Tetzlaff, violin/Steve Divislim, tenor/ Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wien/ Vienna Philharmonic/Pierre Boulez – DGG 4778771, 48:44; Bonus Conversation (in English) with Boulez with Andrew Clements: 15:07 ****:
The music of Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) often constitutes a world of its own, obligated to a Polish national culture, certainly, as well as to a kind of post-Debussy mysticism that feels no great sympathy with traditional tonality or sonata-form. In the course of his 1916 Violin Concerto No. 1–which takes its inspiration from a poem by Tadeusz Micinski called “May Night”–divides itself into five sections, following the fairy-tale fantastical quality of the poem. An eerie, magical, nocturnal hysteria runs through the work, a hyper-sensitivity in the writing that rejects the Romantic ethos for a more Expressionist persona. Some of the ecstasies resemble moments in Scriabin, while the color content and flamboyant expressivity hearken back to Dvorak or forward to Reger and Bartok. Tetzlaff, typically for him, carries us in rapt aggressive gestures. The cadenza, prepared by Paul Kochanski–to whom the work is dedicated–culminates the vague trajectories of this deliciously appealing piece, despite its strange cascades of harp, clarinets, and oboes, which often quarrel like a bird-scape from Messiaen.
Szymanowski became enchanted–after a tour of Italy and Vienna and his discovery of Hans Bethge’s translation of the Sufi poet Hafiz–with Persian mysticism and the lure, via another sojourn to Africa, of Islam. In 1914 Szymanowski came upon texts by Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi (1207-1273), a purveyor of higher states or avatars of experience. Radiance and transcendence dominate this vision, the lyric tenor part conceived to stretch out the human soul into the diaphanous ether. The chorus adds an harmonic color to the procession, another form of excited rapture amidst the various orientalism and exoticisms of the modal pageantry. The second movement proceeds with hints of martial phrases, the ubiquitous solo violin weaving in and out of the haze. We waft in a world somewhere between Scriabin and Gurdieff – delicate, aromatic, sensuously alluring, even feminine.
The tenor enters again for the final movement, Largo, a declamatory incantation that soon evolves into a luxurious tone poem with debts to Wagner’s Forest Murmurs and Tristan, Scriabin, and if not Debussy, then to Mallarme. If someone said the tenor solo from Liszt’s Faust-Symphony makes its presence felt, I would not argue. The erotic convulsions of the latter pages resound with The Poem of Ecstasy, and then the music prolongs a dying fall. Quite a mesmeric experience and a significant addition to the Boulez library.
The “garden of Szymanowski” came to Boulez in the early 1940s, courtesy of violinist Jacques Thibaud. Boulez, like Szymanowski, loves poetry, and so the text of the Third Symphony drew him, especially for its unique chromatic language and tonal direction – strange and interesting. Scriabin and the Stravinsky of his Swiss period came to Boulez’s taste as analogies to this music, this sensual mysticism. A Tatar dance appears, a moment of national color, repeated twice. The form is difficult, like Debussy’s Jeux or Mahler‘s Sixth, and we must listen carefully so our memory works automatically.