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Karol Szymanowski: Stabat Mater
Andrzej Hiolski, Karol Szymanowski, Karol Stryja
Karol Szymanowski: Stabat Mater
Genres: Pop, Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (10) - Disc #1

The Stabat Mater is a meditation on the image of the Virgin Mary weeping at the sight of her son, Jesus, on the cross. The emotional nature of the text, its intense aura of sadness and attendant feelings of hope and con...  more »

      
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Amazon.com
The Stabat Mater is a meditation on the image of the Virgin Mary weeping at the sight of her son, Jesus, on the cross. The emotional nature of the text, its intense aura of sadness and attendant feelings of hope and consolation, has made it a favorite of composers since the Middle Ages. Aside from its usual associations with Holy Week, the prayer has special significance in Catholic countries where worship of the Virgin Mary is especially strong--nowhere more so than in Poland, where she is practically the patron saint of the entire country. Szymanowksi's beautiful version of the prayer is one of its most luminous and moving musical settings. Coupled with a selection of his other religious and vocal works, this disc makes a very satisfying program. --David Hurwitz
 

CD Reviews

Intensely Moving Sabat Mater
Christopher Forbes | Brooklyn,, NY | 01/22/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The Stabat Mater, a medieval poem describing the feelings of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the Cross, has recieved countless settings by composers throughout the years. It is a tempting text for choral composition, as it is a very emotional text, the musical equivalent of the Pieta in art. And yet, it is actually an incredibly difficult text to set. The poetic meter is almost too strong to set well to music, and the dangling Latin participles create a stasis in the poetic rhythm that often can make settings of the text rather boring. But when at their best, they can be the most moving works in the sacred music repertoire. Szymakowski's Stabat Mater is up there with the great ones.Szymanowski is still a lesser known composer outside of Poland, even though he was prolific and quite important in his day. He began his career as a composer of late romantic music with influences of Strauss and Wagner mixed in with Chopin, particularly in his best known piano music. Somewhere around the composition of his 2nd symphony in the early 1900's he became highly influenced by Scriabin, Debussy, and perhaps even Busoni. His music took on a greater "exotic" quality, as adventurous in it's own way as anything coming out of Vienna at the time. Later in his career he became more folkloric. As is evidenced in his 4th symphony, he began a more serious investigation of Polish folk music which he molded into an idiom that, while showing influence of Bartok and Stravinsky, is totally his own. This breakdown of Szymanowski's music into periods is actually less obvious in the music. His earliest music bares the stamp of chromaticism that came to the forefront in the middle period and never is wholely absent in his final music. This is obvious in the Stabat Mater. The work is a late one. There are obvious parallels to Polish liturgical music (an area of music that deserves it's own study. It's as rich as the more well known Orthodox chant.) Much of the work is in a modal idiom which is enriched with liberal chromatic spice. The piece gains intensity as it goes, reaching a searing climax in the fifth movement and settling into a mysterious calm during it's closing movement. This is a treasure of the choral literature and is beautifully presented by the three soloists, choir and Orchestra of the Polish State Philharmonic under Karol Strykja. The other works on the disc are equally well performed and quite satisfying as well. The Veni Creator is also a late work, with a less chromatic modalism that blazes forth in glory. The Litany to the Virgin is similarly spectacular. The two cantatas - Demeter and Penthesilea come from Szymanowki's earlier period, and are rooted in his interest in ancient Greek culture. Both are representative of his more Scriabinesque period and yet are distinctive works in their own right. This is a highly satifying collection of choral music and terrific for the price. If you are interested in the choral repertoire, you should own this. It is lovely."
The Greatest Polish Choral Work of the Twentieth Century
Christopher McKoy | La Canada Flintridge, CA United States | 06/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This Stabat Mater is a Polish setting of a text traditionally in Latin by the early twentieth century composer Karol Szymanowski. `Stabat Mater' means `grieving mother,' a reference to the Virgin Mary weeping for Jesus at the cross. Music critic Jim Svejda rightly notes that along with Bohuslav Martinu, Szymanowski's music remains one of the undiscovered treasures of twentieth century orchestral music. This is equally true of his choral music. Szymanowski's Stabat Mater is one of the wonders of twentieth century choral music, a work to be considered alongside Rachmaninov's Vespers, Janacek's Glagolitic Mass, and Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms.

Szymanowski is arguably the best Polish composer of the twentieth century though, like Chopin, he was technically only half Polish (Chopin's father was French; Szymanowski's mother was Swedish from what is now Ukraine). But this makes little difference as what is important is the music. Like his great contemporaries Strauss, Bartok and Janacek, Szymanowski stands right at the edge of the breakdown of the Western tonal system in music but does not opt for complete atonality. Although modernists once decried those who adhered to any aspect of tonality, many classical music aficionados have now discovered that some of the greatest music ever written straddles these two musical worlds. Today there are certainly more people who would like to listen to Bartok's captivating Bluebeard's Castle than, say, to Schoenberg's Erwartung. Szymanowski's Stabat Mater is less chromatic (and therefore less dissonant to most listeners) than several of his other works, for example, the opera King Roger and the Third Symphony. (King Roger features what is arguably the most remarkable opening music of any opera: a choral scene of haunting medieval grandeur.) In my view, the Stabat Mater is therefore just the right mix of tonal and chromatic features.

Few of these technical considerations will matter while you listen to the Stabat Mater, however. The work's spiritual beauty speaks for itself and has a slow, ethereal quality that suspends the listener in an enraptured, otherworldly state. So many choral works attempt to beat listeners over the head with pathos or, in bad cases, kitschy bombast. Szymanowski's Stabat Mater could not be further removed from this (typically nineteenth century) style of choral work, many of which have recently been recycled as "soundtracks" for bad "action movies." But neither is it the sort of heart-meltingly sensuous choral piece that is always very popular with classical music publics. To some the Stabat Mater may even appear cold in its slow tempo and movement. But the pacing and the style are doubtless intentional in that Szymanowski was abundantly capable of creating very sensuous music, as several of the arias from King Roger attest. But this apparent slowness masks a profundity that is revealed after only a few listenings and is richly rewarding.

Let me conclude by saying that I do not think the claim in my title for this review is an exaggeration: though not as widely known, Szymanowski's Stabat Mater stands head and shoulders above anything by Gorecki or Penderecki and is indeed the greatest Polish choral work of the twentieth century.
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