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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Karol Szymanowski - Stabat Mater; Harnasie (Edward Gardner)


Composer: Karol Szymanowski
  • (01-06) Stabat Mater, Op. 53
  • (07-11) Harnasie, ballet, Op. 55 - Tableau I. In the Mountain Pasture
  • (12-17) Harnasie, ballet, Op. 55 - Tableau II. In the Inn

Lucy Crowe, soprano (1-6)
Pamela Helen Stephen, mezzo-soprano (1-6)
Robert Murray, tenor (7-17)
Gábor Bretz, baritone (1-6)
BBC Symphony Chorus & Orchestra
Edward Gardner, conductor

Date: 2013
Label: Chandos



I was previously familiar with some but certainly not all of Szymanowski’s music, yet I was immediately captivated by this Stabat Mater and, indeed, caught up in its remarkable musical environment from start to finish. It is, in fact, one of the most touching, intimate, and deeply affecting pieces of music I think I’ve ever heard in my life, and—not knowing it previously—I would still give immense credit to the highly sensitive, and sensitized, reading by soprano Lucy Crowe and conductor Gardner. Crowe’s voice is of the type one seldom hears anymore: a pure, almost Garcia-trained soprano on a par with such legendary names as Isobel Baillie. Gábor Bretz’s rich but somewhat harsh-sounding baritone is not on the same level vocally, but he interprets with great power and imagination. As for the music, it sounds remarkably like a Polish version of neo-Classical Stravinsky, yet with touches of Kódaly here and there. It is the kind of piece that—if you know what I mean—underwhelms you, but in such a way that it makes its impression more by its subtlety than by force. The music is sorrowful, but not in the least sentimental or maudlin. You feel, in a way, as if your energy is being sapped, as if Szymanowski’s lament is your own. The music enters your system through the ears, but is immediately rerouted to the heart.

The switch of mood and style from Stabat Mater to the “Góral Ballet in One Act,” Harnasie, is remarkable and shows an entirely different side of the composer. This music is not only livelier, which one would expect, but in an entirely different style, almost like the (later) music of Alan Rawsthorne or William Walton but with a Polish accent. Again, Szymanowski is primarily but not consistently tonal in approach, and his orchestration here is remarkably colorful, reminding one of some of Rimsky-Korsakov’s finer work. The notes indicate that the composer took eight years to complete it, a surprisingly long time. During its gestation, Szymanowski studied the culture of the Podhale region of the Tatra Mountains, living in Atma, its principal town, and soaking up the exuberance of the local Góral or highlander music. Here, I didn’t feel that Gardner’s conducting was quite raw or energetic enough—my mind’s ear kept hearing someone like Antoni Wit or Artur Rodzi?ski conducting it—but for a British conductor he does pretty well. Tenor Murray has a harsh and unsteady voice, but fortunately his participation is brief. There is tremendous vitality in this music—when the chorus enters, it almost sounds like an orgiastic ritual piece (think of Carmina Burana, but in a different style)—and here one must indeed give Gardner credit for “letting it all hang out.” Surprisingly, the music ends very, very quietly, after a sotto voce section by the tenor.

This surprising and fascinating music receives, as I indicate, excellent performances all round. I strongly suggest that you hear this one yourself.

-- Lynn René Bayley, FANFARE

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: ***** / RECORDING: *****


Karol Szymanowski (6 October 1882 – 29 March 1937) was a Polish composer and pianist, the most celebrated Polish composer of the early 20th century. His career divided in 3 periods. The early works show the influence of the late Romantic German school as well as the early works of Alexander Scriabin. Later, he developed an impressionistic and partially atonal style. His third period was influenced by the folk music of the Polish Górale people. He is considered a member of the late 19th-/early 20th-century modernist movement Young Poland and widely viewed as one of the greatest Polish composers.


Edward Gardner (born 22 November 1974 in Gloucester) is an English conductor. He attended University of Cambridge as a music student, and was a choral scholar in King's College Choir. He also studied at the Royal Academy of Music, where his teachers included Colin Metters. He was music director of English National Opera (2006-2015), principal guest conductor of  the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (2011-2016). He is currently principal conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. Gardner has conducted several recordings for EMI Classics and Chandos. Records.


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