This programme presents songs by Szymanowski covering the half-decade between 1900 and 1905. They are youthful works, then, which point to the composer’s future characteristics without quite presenting a fully developed voice. Influences are many and varied – though more from France and Russia, significantly, than Germany.
The Op 2 set offers plenty of echoes of Tchaikovskian wistfulness to match poetry of regulation late-Romantic pessimism and sensuality. The larger-scale Three Fragments, Op 5, are more broadly thoughtful, setting words of quiet obsessiveness to music that mixes religiosity with pent-up emotion. Szymanowski’s ‘Swan’ is a fateful harbinger of suffering; and nature is similarly a source of angst and fear in the Op 11 songs, where the maudlin first two numbers (‘Joyless am I’ and ‘In the enchanted forests’) are saved by the urgent final two, ‘Flying over me into the sapphire sea’ and ‘Roar, storm!’.
There’s some atmospheric, interesting music here, but I can’t find much to enjoy in Rafa Majzner’s pallid, undernourished singing – his tenor is musty in the middle of the range and turns unvarnished and colourless anywhere above about an F. Katarzyna Rzeszutek offers dutiful accompaniments, the recorded sound giving her piano a somewhat artificial tone. An eccentric – and eccentrically translated – booklet note gives only sketchy information about the songs, and the track listing wrongly places ‘Swan’ after the Op 5 Fragments.
The young Piotr Bezcaa’s superior recording of these works, released as part of Channel Classics’ four-disc set of the composer’s songs (11/04), seems to have been deleted. Even so, I still find it difficult to offer much of a recommendation for this newcomer, whose usefulness is further undermined by the absence of any texts or translations.