Araúzo’s Powerful Szymanowski

SZYMANOWSKI: Masques. Mazurkas, Op. 50: Nos. 1-4, 13-20. Mazurkas, Op. 62. Vals Romantique. Variations in Bb min., Op. 3 / Patricia Araúzo, pno / IBS Classical 42021

Here we have the young pianist-educator, who teaches piano at the Reina Sofia School of Music and the Superior Conservatory of Music in Seville, attacking the thorny piano works of the major Polish impressionist of the 20th century, and what she has to say about the music will take you by surprise and awaken your imagination.

For Patricia Araúzo Rodríguez is not just another delicate flower who plays this music as if it were a delicate flower. No, not at all. On the contrary, she makes Szymanowski sound like a cousin of Charles Ives or even Stravinsky, with crisp, bold readings the likes of which I’ve never heard before. It’s not that she ignores the delicate dynamics in the score so much as she emphasizes the louder ones, attacking the keyboard like a tigress on the prowl for a mate (or some meat). It’s the same kind of intensity that Michael Ponti brought to Scriabin’s piano music many decades ago, and I for one love it. After all, Szymanowski was a Pole, and whether you choose to believe it or not, Poles are very emotional people. They’re not much given to whispering faint nothings, but to bold words and bold action.

Mind you, I like Sinae Lee’s Szymanowski recordings on Divine Art, too, but if Araúzo had chosen to record the composer’s complete piano music rather than just a single disc’s worth, her interpretations would be my favorite. Yes, I admit that Araúzo brings a fiery Spanish temperament to this music, but except for the fact that the Spanish sense of rhythm is sharper and a bit more acute than the Polish, I don’t think this is too far from the way Szymanowski himself probably performed. One need only think of Rubinstein’s way with the Chopin Mazurkas or Lipatti’s way with the same composer’s Waltzes to realize that the right way to play Polish music is with a combination of fire and poetry. You simply can’t have one without the other. My sole regret about this CD was that it is only 68 minutes long instead of 78 or 79; I would have loved for her to have recorded more of the Op. 50 Mazurkas, simply because she, like Lee, brings out their more rhythmic qualities which Szynamowski meant to offset the almost Oriental mysticism in them.

As a former (amateur) pianist, what astonishes me about Araúzo’s playing is that she can manage so much power while still retaining fleetness of touch. Trust me, that isn’t easy to do. Many a pianist, including such super-virtuosi as Marc-André Hamelin, can play quickly and with power, but the specific manner in which Araúzo attacks the keys—getting deep into them and producing a powerful sound akin to a drum kit—is not at all easy to do at the speed she achieves. Try it sometimes if you don’t believe me. My own piano teacher, Frederick Chang (himself a pupil of Rosina Lhevinne), taught me back in the late 1960s/early 1970s that there are times when you have to compromise between speed and power, that if you want both you may have to blur a few notes and if not, you have to ease back on one or the other. Araúzo seems to completely flaunt this rule, and how on earth she does it, I don’t know. Well, that’s why she’s a Professor of Piano at two universities in Spain and I’m not.

But to return to the music and its treatment here, one must always remember that Szymanowski loved Debussy, Ravel, and Mediterranean music, so of course there are all these exotic harmonies floating around in his works. And yes, one can play them a bit less powerfully than Araúzo does and still make a good impression (Sinae Lee does so). Still, if you’d like a taste of Szymanowski with a caffeine kick, this is the CD for you.

Brava, Patricia!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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