December 2006

Szymanowski - Songs of a Fairy-Tale Princess; Harnasie (ballet); Love Songs of Hafiz
Iwona Sobotka, soprano; Katarina Karnéus, mezzo; Timothy Robinson, tenor; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Chorus; Sir Simon Rattle; conductor
EMI 64435
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

The appearance of Sir Simon Rattle with his former orchestra in Birmingham might suggest that this is a reissue, but it is in fact an entirely new release. Portions of it were recorded in the same month Sir Simon took over the Berlin Philharmonic (October 2002), portions in 2004, and the Fairy-Princess cycle was actually taped as recently as last March. Rattle had recorded several of Szymanowski’s other works -- orchestral, choral, even the opera King Roger -- in Birmingham. The continuity of that survey is made more apparent by his returning there for these two orchestral song cycles and the earthy ballet (whose scoring includes a tenor and chorus) instead of simply recording them in Berlin. Whatever the reasoning behind it, this is a very appealing issue, showing both the Polish composer and his British champion at their very best.

And it is significant that the Polish composer has this British champion. When Americans first became acquainted with the music of Carl Nielsen some 50 years ago it was entirely through the efforts of Danish musicians; when such conductors as Barbirolli, Bernstein, Markevitch, Ormandy and Martinon began performing and recording Nielsen, however, their activity signaled that composer’s successful transition from regional prominence to international acceptance. Szymanowski’s music has so far been circulated mainly by his latter-day compatriots, and their efforts have been invaluable, but, like Nielsen’s, this music has great appeal for the broader audience that will be reached only when it is taken up by a more diverse roster of performers. EMI has given these glowing performances a luminous sonic frame, and has provided full texts with excellent translations.