SZYMANOWSKI: 9 Preludes, Op. 1. Variations in Bb min., Op. 3. 4 Etudes, Op. 4. Fantasy in C, Op. 14 / Johanna Domańska, pno / Dux 1673
Following on the heels of fairly young Korean pianist Sinae Lee’s excellent recording of Szymanowski piano works on Divine Art is this Vol. 2 of what is apparently projected to be a complete survey of the composer’s piano output by 61-year-old Polish pianist Johanna Domańska. Her first album of Szymanowski was issued by the small British label Olympia in 1995, and was twice nominated for the Frydryk award given by the Polish phonograph industry.
As one can see from the opus numbers, this disc consists of early pieces written between 1899 and 1905, when the composer was between 17 and 23 years old. Back then, his music was, like the early music of Scriabin, heavily influenced by Chopin, yet even then his approach was quite different from Scriabin who slavishly emulated Chopin’s style. Yes, it was still tonal, not yet the Szymanowski we know from his later works, but there are much quirkier harmonies here in which he used notes within chords to subtly and sometimes suddenly shift the chords. Even at age 17 he was reaching for something that just eluded his grasp, but he would get there and never look back.
There is always an artistic danger, I think, in projecting where an artist went in his later years on the music of his or her youth, but since we know that Szymanowski preferred soft textures, sometimes with those textures slightly blurred, even in his later works, an approach like this is appropriate. And it should be noted that Domańska does not play these works in a completely Romantic manner; for the most part, she keeps up forward momentum in her playing, which works not only to the advantage of a fast piece like the “Allegro molto impetuoso” in the 9 Preludes but also in the softer, slower works. She understands the radical nature of these youthful works and does not ignore it. By the time we reach the 4 Studies, Op. 4, Szymanowski is already working in a more advanced manner; these compositions are not altogether linear in construction, but more like a crazy quilt of ideas that synchro-mesh. And check out the wild descending chromatics in study No. 2. By the time you reach the Fantasia in C, large sections of the Szymanowski we know are already emerging.
Had I not already had these pieces in my collection I would surely add this disc to it, and I will most certainly be on the lookout for her further releases in this series. In addition to the high quality of the performances, the recorded sound is superb, giving a little space around the instrument without swamping it in reverb. Recommended.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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