Szymanowski Symphonies Nos. 2 & 4; Concert Overture
The whole Szymanowski landscape is here, from the Strauss-infatuated Concert Overture to the folk-inflected Bartókian pianism of the exotic Fourth Symphony – and though a single sitting might prove indigestible and is probably not advised, the changing face and manner of this most fascinating and accomplished of composers is richly chronicled here in characteristically impressive Chandos sound.
Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra were both probably thinking back to the last time they encountered Strauss’s Don Juan as they fire up his trusty steed to pastures new. Ecstatico passionato is the marking that leaves one in absolutely no doubt as to how this hefty Concert Overture should go and those overreaching horns are a constant reminder of the Straussian inheritance. The best pages of the piece are the Byronic wanderings – verdant and then some – and the virility of the rest throws them into high relief.
There is still an abundance of Strauss running through the opening movement of the Second Symphony, with uncannily scored chamber-textured pages redolent of Le bourgeois gentilhomme lifted to Rosenkavalier opulence. Gardner and the BBC SO convey its irresistible pull towards ever more effusive climaxes. A musical jacuzzi to be sure. I’m not sure what it says but I like the noise it makes. And it is followed by a hypnotically beautiful start to the second movement, where restraint and harmonic depth of utterance achieve something quite special. Variations don’t often begin with the theme so exquisitely adorned (Elgar’s Enigma an exception) and the distance that Szymanowski puts between himself and the ensuing variations is also intriguing. As for the contrapuntal work-out of the finale, it points to where Schoenberg and Berg were to take the Straussian ethos.
Szymanowski’s influences could hardly be more clearly defined than they are here but in the Fourth Symphony his obvious kinship with the rugged folk inflections of Bartók’s piano concertos (and this symphony is one in all but name) is subsumed into a lushly impressionistic whole that is entirely Szymanowski’s own. Louis Lortie is the ‘wanderer’ whose musings take us high into the Tatra Mountains. Solo flute and violin achieve a lofty tranquillity in the haunting slow movement and for me this (as opposed to where he is out-Straussing Strauss) is where Szymanowski’s heart is.