Sunday, 24 September 2017

Szymanowski Songs for tenor - We mgłach

Karol Szymanowski We mgłach (In the Mist)  Songs op 2. 5, 7, and 11 with Rafał Majzner  and  Katarzyna Rzeszutek  from Dux Recordings, in Poland, continuing their specialist series on Szymanowski which began with releases of his music for solo piano.   Majzner is a Szymanowski specialist. He has written extensively about tenor roles in Szymanowski's operas, roles which are often critically clues as to meaning.  Szymanowski's songs for soprano and

piano are very well known but his songs for tenor less so, making this

disc a must for anyone interested in this most unusual of composers. 

This recording is therefore a must for anyone into Szymanowski, but with one caveat : No texts, no translations.  Since the disc is aimed at Polish audiences, that's no big deal.  The rest of us need to do homework, but that's a good thing. English speakers are so insular that they need to make the effort to find out about Polish culture, history and intellectual life.  Some texts are available (ie Although there aren't any good translations, in a way that's good because it means employing listening skills - understanding the emotional content, responding to the sound of words and the shape of phrases. Active listening, not passive, involving the mind.  That's the way to learn.  (Help greatly welcomed !). Perhaps Dux Recordings could put the texts up on their website ?

The four sets of songs on this recording date from 1900 to 1905, at a very early stage in Szymanowski's career, when he was still a student.  Significantly, all are also settings of living poets, contemporaries of the composer.  Szymanowski began Sześć pieśni (Six Songs), his op  2, aged only 18.  Although the composer was to make his name as a cosmopolitan sophisticate, these songs show that his roots in Polish culture went deep. The texts here were by Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer (1860-1940) . Przerwa-Tetmajer was both a nationalist and modernist, given that Secessionism and Symbolism were forces for renewal, all over Europe.   Each of these poems is brief, but the imagery is so concentrated that meaning is left deliberately elusive.  The first two songs, in a minor key, are autumnal, but the strong piano part suggests resolve. In both songs, the image of a woman who may no longer exist. With the third song,  We mgłach (In the Mist) the vocal line curves mysteriously, like the mists and streams in the evening cool.  What's happening ? "Bez dna, bez dna! bez granic!" sings Majzner, (No bottom, no bottom, without borders!).  In dreams, the poet hears mysterious voices calling . In the last song, Pielgrzym, the line rises, swelling with hope. "Gdziekolwiek zwrócę krok, wszędzie mi jedno, na północ pójdę, czyli na południe", (Everywhere I turn, from the north I will go south)   Immediately one thinks of the Persian Song of the Night in Szymanowski’s Symphony no 3 and in the Shepherd in the opera Król Roger whose singing changes the King's life. 

Szymanowski's Trzy fragmenty z poematów Jana Kasprowicza op 5 1902 (Three Fragments from Poems by Jan Kaprowicz) are epigrams, short and succint.  Majzner's delivery is elegant yet emotionally expressive.  I can't find translations, but the songs are intriguing.  Łabędź (The Swan) op 7 from 1904, to a poem by Tadeusz Berent, is intense : whatever this swan might be, it's not serene.  

Most intriguing of all, Cztery pieśni (Four Songs) op 11  (1904-5) to poems b y Tadeusz Micinski (1873 - 1918).  A long piano line moves purposefully forward. The vocal lines form patterns, words repeated with different variations.  Something obsessive ?. "Straszą mnie widma i tajemne zbrodnie" (I'm scared of ghosts and secret crimes ?)  Majzner's voice rises in heroic exclamation.  What are these references to Druids and Thermopylae ? In the second song, we are in an enchanted forest, like a child afraid of fairy tales.  The vocal line elides, the piano part seductively leading onwards.   Are we in the world of magical fantasy, tinged with menace, a theme that runs so often through Szymanowski's other work ?  The pace quickens, alert with anticipation, for the sounds are seductive and the imagery rich.  When we reach the final song, Rycz burzo, the rhythms roll in full flow. Turbulent storms, wildly churning figures in the piano.  `References To Prometheus and the mountains of Pelion.Heroic   singing from Majzner, almost a Heldentenor.  Defiance. But the piano rumbles ominously and the song ends, in hushed minor. "cichy, bezkresny niepojęty ból!" (quiet, endless, inconceivable pain)

Hopefully, Dux recordings will continue their saga through Szymanowski's songs and other works 

Please see my other pieces on Szymanowski by clicking on the labels below.

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