J. Rich | 11/06/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Simon Rattle conducting Szymanowski seems like an odd choice, but you will find in this set that Rattle knows this music very well as do the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Karol Szymanowski is a very unusual composer in the sense that he never truly found his own unique style of composition. He has obvious ties with Strauss' and Debussy's music, but also the folk music of Poland. One thing I've noticed is that his music never truly settles down and gives the listener an upfront harmony and it is this aspect of his music that gives it a searching quality. I would also say that Szywmanowski wasn't that confident in his abilities as a composer. All of this aside, he has wrote some very good music, which I will detail in my next paragraph.
The contents of this box set:
Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess
Love Songs of Hafiz
Violin Concerto No. 1
Violin Concerto No. 2
Symphonie concertante (Symphony No. 4)
King Roger - Acts 1 & 2
King Roger - Act 3 (continued)
Litany to the Virgin Mary
Symphony No. 3 "Song of the Night"
In disc 1, the highlight for me was the ballet "Harnasie." This is a great piece of music filled with all kinds great rhythms and musical ideas. This should appeal to fans of Prokofiev or any fan of 20th Century ballet. The second disc, which contains "Symphonie concertante" is one of the best pieces Szymanowski ever wrote, especially the second movement "Andante molto sostenuto." This particular movement is so moving to me. The "Violin Concertos" are also well-played and contain some beautiful music. I don't like opera so the third disc and the first part of the fourth are of no interest to me. The highlight for me of disc four was the very beautiful choral piece "Stabat Mater," which could very well be called a masterpiece. It is Szymanowski's most confident piece of music. The other piece I enjoy (from disc 4) was "Symphony No. 3." This is a very enjoyable piece with some great musical ideas. The performances from Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony are fantastic.
While Szymanowski's music may not appeal to everybody, it does have it's moments of greatness and charm. The only thing I wish was Rattle had conducted the first two symphonies, which are badly needing a more committed peformance put to disc. While I can't get onboard with all of this music, the performances of the compositions that I like are fantastic. This CD set is the only Szymanowski set available right now (unless Naxos puts together a box for Antoni Wit's cycle), so I would definitely give these a try as there's some very accomplished and enjoyable music to be found here."