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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: 6 minutes 0 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)

Two Mazurkas, Op 62
composer
1933/4

Moderato  [3'27]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The two isolated mazurkas of Op 62, the first composed in 1933, the second in 1934, are not only Szymanowski’s last pieces for the piano: they are the last works that, raddled with tuberculosis, he managed to complete at all. They take the austerity of the Op 50 set even further, their abstracted, improvisatory quality removing almost all echoes of their folk origin—virtually all that is left, like the grin of the Cheshire Cat, are those sharpened fourths and flattened sevenths.

In an interview given in 1936 (reproduced in Szymanowski on Music, pp 113–14), in response to the interviewer’s observation that ‘in your work it is not difficult to observe the tonal and rhythmic elements of Polish folk-song’, Szymanowski countered that:

folklore is only significant for me as a fertilising agent. My aim is the creation of a Polish style, from ‘Slopiewnie’ onwards, in which there is not one jot of folklore […].

With that ‘Sabala’ motive cropping up in ‘Slopiewnie’ and the first of the Op 50 Mazurkas and a Góral melody in the ballet Harnasie (1922–31) furnishing a fugue subject for the Second String Quartet (1927), he wasn’t being entirely accurate. But there was no doubting his sincerity when, in his 1924 article ‘On Highland Music’ (also quoted in Szymanowski on Music, pp 124–25), he commended the stimulus of Tatra folk-music and ‘the unalloyed purity of its ethnic expression’ to the Polish composers who would come after him:

I should like our young generation of Polish musicians to understand how our present anaemic musical condition could be infused with new life by the riches hidden in the Polish ‘barbarism’ which I have at last ‘uncovered’ and made my own.

This was no false modesty: the harmonic system that Szymanowski articulated in the composition of these mazurkas is unique. He was only 54 when he died, on 28 March 1937, a victim of chronic tuberculosis; quite how he would have developed the musical language he had forged himself is one of the major unanswerable questions of twentieth-century music. Among the ‘younger generation of Polish musicians’ Lutoslawski, Czeslaw Marek and Roman Maciejewski did indeed infuse their music with the riches of Polish barbarism—at least in their early works. The fact that no Polish composer has since taken up his challenge in any systematic way may, in truth, be a tribute to the deeply personal nature of his achievement.

from notes by Martin Anderson © 2003

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