Music Web International: outstanding.
The first Polish composer since Chopin to make an impact on the European musical scene, Karol Szymanowski (1882–1937) wrote music which may be divided into three periods: romantic, impressionist and popular (i.e. ‘Polish‘). For this disc Roland Pöntinen has chosen works from the second and third of these. The impressionistic Métopes was composed in 1915, following a visit to Sicily. It is a triptych whose title refers to the spaces on a classical frieze in which a sculptor would add decorative scenes, and each section depicts a character and location from Homer‘s Odyssey. One year later came the trilogy Masques, which portrays the story-telling Shéhérazade, an episode from the legend of Tristan and Isolde (Tantris le bouffon) and a Sérénade de Don Juan. It thus provided ample opportunity for Szymanowski to explore languorous orientalisms, imaginative tone-painting (for instance capturing the sound of Don Juan‘s guitar) and the complex psyches of two of the most ambiguous heroes in Western literature. Soon after these examples of programme music, the composer returned to pure sonata form in the Third Sonata, his last major work for solo piano. This remains based in Impressionism, but also achieves a synthesis between that and the style of earlier works. During the 1920s Szymanowski turned to the folklore of Poland. Inspired by music from the Tatra Mountains his Mazurkas are rougher than Chopin‘s in tone, but the folk dance is nonetheless integrated into an original synthesis of European styles: ‘Let our music be national … but not provincial‘, as Szymanowski once wrote. Presenting this programme, Roland Pöntinen displays the same virtuosity and interpretative gifts that he has demonstrated on his many previous BIS releases. A recent example is his impassioned advocacy of the solo piano music by Schönberg and Berg (on BIS-CD-1417) which was met with great acclaim, for instance in BBC Music Magazine: ’Some extremely beautiful playing here – atmospheric, of course, but also stylish and subtly coloured.’ Extremely beautiful, atmospheric, stylish and subtly coloured playing is also to be expected here, in Roland Pöntinen’s new Szymanowski recital.