SZYMANOWSKI: Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess; Harnasie; Love Songs of Hafiz

While he wrote in several genres,
the works that involve orchestra are evocatively colorful and those with
voice quite soaring. This single CD includes some of Szymanowskiís finest
works, two orchestral song cycles, the three Songs of a Fairy-tale
, op. 31 (1933), and the Love Songs of Hafiz, op. 26
(1914), along with the ballet-pantomime Harnasie, op. 55 (1935). The
latter work, regarded as one of his masterpieces, resembles more a cantata
with its use of chorus and solo tenor. Conceived in two parts,
Harnasie is an atmospheric piece that deals with the abduction of a
bride from her wedding by the robber Harna? and his eventual taking her as
his not unwilling bride. The story is set in the Tatra area of Poland, and as
such makes use of evoking local color through melodic and thematic motifs and
also its sensitive and highly colorful orchestration. It is a tour-de-force
that is highly dramatic when executed with the precision that Sir Simon
Rattle brings to this performance.

The first part of the work sets the stage for the action, with the various
pieces establishing the sonic and timbral idiom Szymanowski conceived for the
work. It is more symphonic than the second part, which opens with a striking
depiction of the Polish wedding scene. That scene makes use of choral forces
that capture the mood well in this particular recording. The stark open
sonorities suggest the kind of eastern European ritual that Stravinsky
captured in more sustained fashion in Les noces. Harnasie
is a different kind of work, and its musical narrative makes use of other
impulses in its structure. The entrance of the bride, for example, brings
into the wedding scene elements from the first part of the work, and the
stylized songs and dances that follow bring make use of elements related to
Polish culture. Rattle allows these elements to emerge clearly and without
artifice. He brings to the score a sense of narrative that creates the
seamless quality Szymanowski intended in the score. The sometimes unique
scorings are articulated clearly and underscore the melodic and rhythmic
ideas that Szymanowski develops in this complex yet accessible work.

With the final scene, the solo tenor voice that belongs to the character
of the robbersí leader Harna? poses the question that brings about the
dÈnouement. This brief number is the critical element that must strike the
right tone in its function as the raison díÍtre for the entire
piece. Harna? asks the bride whether she wants to see him or another,
presumably the intended groom (ìPowiydyzze mi powiydz / do uska prawego, /
cy mnie rada widzis, cy kogo innegi?î) and, in this single piece,
Szymanowski brings the work to its dramatic conclusion. Robinsonís
interpretation is moving, with the florid line expressing the passionate side
of the Polish robber.

The two orchestral song cycles included with Harnasie are equally
masterful works. The first, the Songs for a Fairy-tale Princess are
three highly ornate works that demand the kind of accomplished coloratura
that Iwona Sobotka brings to this performance. The topics of the songs are
hardly exotic: ìThe Lonely Moon,î ìThe Nightingale,î and ìDance.î
Yet the music conveys an exotic quality in the elaborate, almost
improvisatory-sounding lines. In contrast to the extended harmonic idiom
Szymanowski used earlier in his career, the music seems related to
impressionism and more Eastern-influenced melodic patterns. While its
underlying structure is diatonic, the details suggest more remote musical

In a similar way the Love Songs of Hafiz belong to the same world
as the Songs for a Fair-Tale Princess. The texts of the Love
Songs of Hafiz
are derived from the interpretations of Persian verse by
the German poet Hans Bethge, the author Die chinesische Flˆte,
which Mahler used for his orchestral song cycle Das Lied von der
. In these Polish translations of the Bethgeís German verse,
nothing is lost in the linguistic shifts. These are poems that bring the
Eastern world to West through the brilliant musical mind of Szymanowski. More
adventurous, perhaps, such the post-Romanticism of Zemlinskyís Lyrische
, Szymanowskiís set of eight songs are a profoundly moving
work. Rattle brings a fine interpretation to this recording, which benefits
from the elegant voice of Katarina KarnÈus. Her low range is burnished and
she offers an even tone in the passages that require a higher andñat
timesñsustained tessitura. Unquestionably lyric in approaching this piece,
KarnÈus also demonstates her capacity for dramatic expression in
interpreting this work.

Those who may not be familiar withSzymanowskiís music will find this
recording to be an excellent introduction to his work. The performers with
the City of Birmingham Symphony and Chorus offer are sensitive to his style,
and with this choice of pieces. Rattle offers a masterful interpretation to
some of Szymanowskiís finest compositions. The three works were were
recorded in studio and date from three sessions, Harnasie from 23-25 October
2002, the Love Songs from Hafiz from 30 June 2004, and the Songs
of a Fairy-tale Princess
from 20 March 2006. While some may be familiar
with these works through earlier recordings, these recent ones bear attention
for the nuanced expression they bring to the scores. It is easy to recommend
this recording not only for the choice of music included, but also its
impressive execution.

James L. Zychowicz

image_description=Karol Szymanowski: Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess; Harnasie; Love Songs of Hafiz.
product_title=Karol Szymanowski: Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess; Harnasie; Love Songs of Hafiz.
product_by=Iwona Sobotka, soprano; Timothy Robinson, tenor; Katarina KarnÈus, mezzo soprano; City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle (cond.)
product_id=EMI Classics 0094636443522 [CD]