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Hyperion Records

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Landscape with a Traveller (c1921) by Eugeniusz Zak (1884-1926)
Track(s) taken from CDA67886
Recording details: March 2013
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by David Hinitt
Release date: February 2014
Total duration: 14 minutes 38 seconds

'Karol Szymanowski was never a concert virtuoso but knew the piano inside out, writing music that, despite its often complex textures, is always beautifully laid out for the hands. The three Métopes from 1915 recall ‘the leavening, salutary influence of Ravel’s and Debussy’s weightless, diaphanous textures’ (to quote Francis Pott in his booklet-note) and rely ‘upon a performer of fastidious polyphonic instincts and acute subtlety’ … one can have no reservations about Cédric Tiberghien’s playing throughout this absorbing disc' (Gramophone) » More

'Few players of this music combine quite such clarity and articulation with shimmering sparkle and virtuosic flair: this is sophisticated pianism … The most famous of these Scriabinesque pieces, the sorrowful and haunting No 3 in B flat minor, was made popular by Paderewski, and Tiberghien’s performance explains its enduring appeal … you will be left wanting to listen again' (BBC Music Magazine) » More

'The remarkably gifted French pianist Cédric Tiberghien has all the wherewithal to combat the hazards of articulation, and, more than that, he has a sharp ear for characterisation in an idiom that on occasion is haunted by images of Debussy and Scriabin but has an expressive pungency all its own … Tiberghien’s definition of atmosphere and affinity with Szymanowski’s imagination and language give his performances a mesmerising, scintillating power and colour' (The Daily Telegraph) » More

'Whatever Szymanowski demands, Tiberghien delivers without a moment of strain or fakery … Tiberghien’s intellectual and emotional grasp of Szymanowski’s idiom allows him to light on a fully convincing balance of the music’s competing elements. The results are fragrant but never cloying, intricate but never convoluted; and he’s never thrown off by the music’s quirky syntax or its shifting metres. Timbrally, the playing is consistently gorgeous, too, tonally ravishing even at the quietest dynamic levels: listen, for instance, as ‘Shéhérazade’, the first of the three Masques, fades away to inaudibility. Consistently gorgeous but far from uniform in tone of voice' (International Record Review) » More

'More exciting piano playing awaits in Cédric Tiberghien’s recital of études and character pieces from the early 20th century by the Polish magician Szymanowski. This kaleidoscopic, richly perfumed music requires an extremely delicate touch and an ability to dart over all parts of the keyboard at the same time. No problem for Tiberghien: in L’île des Sirènes from the set of Métopes, the notes’ liquid flow made my jaw drop and my knees give way. Be prepared: Szymanowski in Tiberghien’s hands is a potent drug indeed' (The Times) » More

'This young Frenchman proves a persuasive advocate for a representative selection of piano works, from the Romantic, Chopin-inspired Op 4 Etudes (1900-02) to three collections written during the First World War that show the marked influence of late Liszt, Debussy and Ravel, especially the impressionist portraits of Szymanowski's masterpiece, Métopes' (The Sunday Times) » More

'The pianist Cédric Tiberghien offers a colorful, virtuosic traversal through some of Szymanowski’s rhapsodic piano scores, including the characterful, fiery études and the more languid Métopes' (The New York Times)

'Cédric Tïberghien, déjà remarquable dans l’œuvre pour violon et piano avec Alina Ibragimova (Diapason d'or, cf. no 571), relève sans la moindre faiblesse les défis techniques—Szymanowski est redoutable pour les doigts. Dans les deux triptyques, il souligne la filiation lisztienne, souvent négligée, par un piano généreux, orchestral. Grâce à un respect scrupuleux des infinies nuances d’expression ou d’agogique, la ligueur formelle s’unit à liberté rhapsodique, la sensualité des couleurs à la mobilité des rythmes—signature de Szymanowski. Langueurs capiteuses de Schéhérazde, grimaces douloureuses ele 'Tantris le bouffon', cyclothymie névrotique de la 'Sérénade de Don Juan', rien de l’esprit de Masques ne lui échappe. Dans Métopes, il exalte les jeux d'eaux de 'L'Ile des sirènes', les séductions capiteuses de 'Calypso' (deux pages également marquées par l'inimitable Richter, Decca), les mouvements chorégraphiques, grâce ou transe, de 'Nausicaa'. Au-delà de la virtuosité, les Etudes op. 33 s’apparentent bien à des pièces d’atmosphère. À des improvisations fantasques où Tïberghien sait creuser du mystère' (Diapason, France) » More

12 Études, Op 33

Presto  [1'06]
Andantino soave  [1'21]
Andante soave  [1'21]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Possibly sensing that he had travelled as far as he could along the path leading to the Métopes and Masques, at around the same point in his career Szymanowski began to renew a relationship with purely functional titles and music devoid of external reference. One product of this was the immense Third Piano Sonata (1917); another the late set of Twelve Études, Op 33 (1916). If the former combines expansive ideas with the accrued wisdom of the preceding decade or more, the latter demonstrates a compression of thought which may seem startling after the discursive abstractions of Calypso or Shéhérazade. These are pieces of epigrammatic brevity, seemingly leading into one another like a series of connected rooms and conjuring an integrated experience in a way that eludes structural analysis. If such a description evokes thoughts of Schumann or Scriabin, the informing aesthetic here is quite distinct from either and reached through a markedly different evolution.

It may be pertinent that Szymanowski had imbibed so much Islamic art on his travels in North Africa; for much of the beauty and mystical power of such work resides in the subtlety, but also hypnotic repetition, of its patterning. An étude offers an apposite foil, its tradition having rested historically upon repetition of a specific figuration throughout a brief movement, with technical drill for the executant usually in mind as much as pure musical expression. Nonetheless, Szymanowski seemingly approached even these pieces as abstract pictures; and, in listening, it may be helpful to think of the way in which a modern visual artist might use the term ‘study’: without the intervening medium of a performer, a canvas becomes its own contemplative statement of an inner world. Possibly aware of Debussy’s Études for piano (1915) as fresh appraisals which were really studies in compositional texture, Szymanowski appropriated the term for what remains primarily a poetic articulation of mood. Far from withering in the face of this confining framework, his distinctive harmony evolves in newly elliptical ways, reminding us of Stravinsky’s dictum that the artist needs constraints in order to find true freedom.

The first Étude flickers in a crepuscular way before expiring on a distinctly blues-like, bitonal chord. No 2 explores the interval of the major second before expanding into a more opulent, but still restrained, texture. No 3 hints at recurrence of the first, and at texturally varied revisiting of the same ideas, thereby implying the possibility of a kind of rondo construct spread across the set, though this proves largely illusory. Diatonic melodic shapes are continually subverted by underlying harmonic contexts which pull in some other tonal direction, the disjunction lending freshness to what might otherwise be tried and tested ground. No 4 leads out of No 3 almost without a break, and creates an agile shimmering between more hesitant moments where memories of the abstract-titled works fleetingly resurface. The piece ends in sudden affirmation of E flat minor, whereupon No 5 reverts to the use of a key signature to consolidate the major equivalent in a brief melodic meditation whose nineteenth-century antecedents (especially Chopin) seem to make a ghostly appearance. In contrast, No 6 hints at the patterning of one or two of Scriabin’s more turbulent early preludes and études. Clear tonality disappears as abruptly as it had arrived. As if these central pieces were an unwitting fulcrum, No 7 seems not to remember Chopin as much as anticipate Lutosławski and his neglected, shortlived contemporary, Grazyna Bacewicz. No 8 again hints at nineteenth-century models through a distorting aural mirror, its disconsolate quality prefiguring moments in Prokofiev’s ‘war’ sonatas (Nos 6, 7 and 8). As in other contexts, a pitch heard as tangential at the outset (in this case D) is tonally consolidated in a conventional ending. No 9 is spasmodically whimsical, No 10 a driven and ominous toccata. No 11 packs a kaleidoscopic dreamscape into nine dense bars. Visually resembling, perhaps parodying, Scriabin’s Étude in D flat major, Op 8 No 10, the last piece hurtles by in thirds, briefly losing impetus before gathering for a final onslaught reminiscent of Prokofiev’s demonic Op 11 Toccata. When the music seems over, a final surprise arrives in the form of a would-be diatonic ending so disjunct from the rest of the piece as to suggest nose-thumbing at tonality itself. To the last, this remarkable composer makes no concession to those unable or unwilling to adapt to his eclectic yet uniquely distinctive world.

from notes by Francis Pott © 2014

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