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Hyperion Records

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A day of Celebration in Old Russia (1884) by Nicolai Dmitrieff-Orenburgsky (1838-1898)
Sotheby’s Picture Library
Track(s) taken from CDA67399
Recording details: August 2002
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: June 2003
Total duration: 51 minutes 16 seconds

'Such elusive music requires a pianist of rare sensitivity and dexterity and in Marc-André Hamelin Szymanowski has been granted a true champion. A marvel of stylistic inwardness and pianistic refinement, his performances capture the Mazurkas’ alternating whimsy and rigour to perfection' (Gramophone)

'Marc-André Hamelin is a near-ideal advocate of this repertoire; alive to every nuance in these scores' (BBC Music Magazine)

'perfect territory for Marc-André Hamelin’s stylish and evocative playing' (The Independent)

'Hamlin does, I think, set a new benchmark … A very notable disc. If you don’t already know this great music, I strongly urge you to buy it' (International Record Review)

'Hamelin is an astonishing virtuoso, yet this music demonstrates that the French-Canadian pianist is much more than a purveyor of keyboard fireworks. His immediate advocacy of the mazurkas, the Valse Romantique and Four Polish Dances should win more friends for this unjustly neglected byway of 20th-century piano repertoire' (The Sunday Times)

'Their highly original, sensual harmonies and sophisticated writing demand a refined pianist of imagination to make a persuasive case. Hamelin gets inside each miniature to do just that, and in beautifully recorded sound' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Marc-André Hamelin plays them with fantasy and rhythmic snap' (The Irish Times)

'Marc-André Hamelin defines the character of each piece vividly, readily tuning into their dark soulfulness' (The Evening Standard)

'on ne pouvait s’attendre à plus agréable surprise que ce programme présentant les dernières œvres pour piano du compositeur polonaise Karol Szymanowski' (Répertoire, France)

Twenty Mazurkas, Op 50
composer
1924/5

Moderato  [2'39]
Moderato  [2'32]
Vivace  [1'56]
Poco vivace  [2'04]
Moderato  [2'43]
Tempo moderato  [3'18]
Allegretto  [1'26]
Allegro moderato  [3'38]
Moderato  [3'25]
Animato  [1'51]
Allegretto dolce  [2'46]
Moderato  [2'44]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The 20 Mazurkas, Op 50 (they were published in five sets between 1926 and 1931, each with four mazurkas apiece), were begun in parallel with Szymanowski’s orchestration of his magnum opus, the opera King Roger, in the first half of 1924. Sixteen of them were ready by the end of the year, with the final four following by the spring of 1925. He used the Op 50 Mazurkas as a drawing board, an experimental template to explore his lechitic keyboard style: form, tonality, rhythm—all are exploited in the search for a new music language which would fuse the characteristic features of highland music with Szymanowski’s mature idiom. He was working with the grain of his natural mode of writing, since whole-tone and tritonal intervals were already part of it. (His approach is set in context, and documented in detail, in Alistair Wightman’s authoritative Karol Szymanowski: His Life and Works, Ashgate, Aldershot, 1999.)

His first task was to reconcile conflicting rhythms—since the mazurka is in triple time, as opposed to the duple of Tatra dances—and did so by employing a drastic rhythmic liberty to obscure the symmetrical phrases of the mazurka, using dotted notes, spreading rhythmic patterns over the barline, avoiding predictable dynamic stress. No 11 uses five-bar phrases, and No 16 has phrases seven bars in length. At the other extreme, No 8 constructs its phrases from single-bar cells.

The larger structures are unpredictable, too. Eight of the Mazurkas (Nos 4, 5, 8, 11, 13, 16, 17 and 19) are in a straightforward ternary form, plus coda. Nos 2, 7, 9 and 12 are rondos. And No 11 is a set of variations.

Szymanowski’s melodic style in the Op 50 Mazurkas is both highly distinctive and infinitely malleable. The sharpened fourths and flattened sevenths typical of Góral music can be found in the ‘Sabala’ motive quoted in Mazurka No 1 and they persist throughout the set. Occasionally (as in No 2) Szymanowski writes pentatonic figures that allude to the folk-music of central Poland; No 12 uses a shape found in the Mazowsze plain around Warsaw. He can vary scales, as in No 5. And No 17 exhibits a typical Szymanowskian practice of answering a rising melodic shape with a falling one. Decoration is another persistent feature, with mordents suggesting the improvisatory approach of the folk-musician.

Another prominent folk-element is the use of a drone fifth, suggesting the dudy, or bagpipes, of the Góral musicians. Szymanowski deploys it imaginatively, lightly in Nos 1 and 11, as a martellato single note in Nos 12 and 18, and with a second fifth drone, a ninth higher than the first, in Nos 4 and 10. He can present two separate melodic strands in different keys or tonal areas: No 3 throws C sharp major/minor and A minor against each other, and No 20 does the same with C major and D major. Sometimes he avoids key areas altogether: the whole-tone No 9 settles on E flat only in its final moments, and the highly chromatic No 19 does not make even that reluctant compromise.

from notes by Martin Anderson © 2003

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