Following Gergiev’s live recordings of Szymanowski’s First and Second symphonies, we now have the Third and Fourth and there is no doubt the later symphonies (and the Stabat Mater) are among the Polish composer’s masterpieces.
Written during the First World War, Szymanowski’s Third Symphony “Song of the Night” involves tenor and choir, as well as a large and colourful orchestra, in a setting of 13th century Persian poetry. Along with the First Violin Concerto, it represents the peak of the composer’s middle period, when he was heavily influenced by Debussy and Scriabin. Gergiev and the LSO revel in the rich tapestry of sound, while Toby Spence is impressively ecstatic in his high solo lines. Pierre Boulez may have coolly revealed every strand of Szymanowski’s orchestral texture, but Gergeiv seems more in touch with the composer’s exotic world.
The Fourth Symphony comes from the composer’s late period, by which time he had fallen under the spell of the folk music of the Tatra mountains where he lived. This Symphonie Concertante is virtually a piano concerto. Denis Matsuev gives a steely, rhythmically taut performance, although Leif Ole Andsnes with Simon Rattle (EMI) is hard to beat. A vibrant, well- sung reading of the comparatively spare Stabat Mater of 1925-26 completes this highly committed and thoroughly recommendable program.
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