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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: 18 minutes 10 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

Métopes 'Trois Poèmes', Op 29

Calypso  [6'03]
Nausicaa  [5'31]

Other recordings available for download
Dennis Lee (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Between Szymanowski’s early piano works and the Métopes (1915) lies a radical expansion and realignment of aesthetic and technique. This took him from immersion in the dense fugal thinking of Reger to a shadowing of the mature Scriabin’s startling transformation during the first decade of the twentieth century and the leavening, salutary influence of Ravel’s and Debussy’s weightless, diaphanous textures. Devotion to a national tradition dropped from the picture early on, and it is a wider significance, not intrinsic Polishness, that distinguishes Szymanowski in posterity.

The title Métopes denotes the square panels in a Classical (Doric) frieze. The late Christopher Palmer suggested that the composer here recalled a Sicilian example which he had seen in the museum at Palermo. In his Mythes, Op 30, for violin and piano (dating from the same year), Szymanowski conjured an anthropomorphic world in which landscape and living presences mesh, so that it becomes hard to disentangle an intuitive study of character and emotion from the expressionistic extension of these into natural surroundings. Rather in the way that Beethoven in his ‘Pastoral’ Symphony alternated peopled landscapes and human states of mind with raw elemental impressionism, the move from Mythes to Métopes is from a living world to one stylized into a kind of impersonal, frigid brilliance.

A recurrent feature of Szymanowski’s music is its disjunction between harmonic density and a luminous weightlessness of actual texture. In the context of piano writing, this relies upon a performer of fastidious polyphonic instincts and acute subtlety. L’île des Sirènes typifies this. Intricate, visually inconsistent on the page and languorously fitful in its activity, the music is mostly deployed over three staves, abounding in what Palmer lists as ‘watery trills and tremolos; atmospheric use of the pedal to form a haze of sound; fine sprays of arpeggio; voluptuously spread chords; fine threads of melismata and arabesque on the one hand, sonorous climaxes on the other, all spun from the merest motivic fragments’.

Calypso embodies explicit reference to the Impressionism of Debussy and Ravel, particularly in a recurrent passage seemingly related to the closing stages of Ravel’s Ondine, the water sprite evoked in his triptych Gaspard de la nuit. There are hints also that Szymanowski might have studied the transient, misanthropic late piano pieces of Liszt: a possible source for his frequent use of tremolando effects. The chosen subject-matter seems tailor-made for Szymanowski’s hermetic world, since it was Calypso’s island where Ulysses was held captive for seven years. Apparent attempts by the salient motifs of the piece to extend into open space are regularly met with obstruction, in the form of a quietly peremptory resurfacing of various fragments of material heard already. Almost like musical sliding doors, these contradictory planes suggest a mirroring of narrative through musical metaphor.

Nausicaa, daughter of the King of Phaeacia, danced for the shipwrecked Ulysses as he awoke from slumber after being cast up on another beach. Initially halting, but then by turns buoyant and sinuous and with a kind of ambivalent decorum, the dance brings a measure of welcome contrast with the hothouse oppression of the preceding movement; and yet, at the climax, after a wild escalation of activity, the principal idea of Calypso suddenly combines with that of Nausicaa. Palmer ingeniously suggests that this denotes their common erotic interest in Ulysses, since in narrative terms they were otherwise unconnected.

Throughout Métopes, freewheeling spontaneity of gesture co-exists paradoxically with the sense of a claustrophobic inner world. The music embodies echoes of Berg’s Piano Sonata, Op 1, while diverging perceptibly from the language of Scriabin—a composer for whom the shackles of inherited sonata structure remained a sometimes insoluble problem in the face of an increasing distance from tonal thinking. That Szymanowski perceived no imperative to replace tonality with some other overarching means of organizing structure remains in itself an arresting aspect of his personality.

from notes by Francis Pott © 2014

Other albums featuring this work
'Szymanowski: Piano Music' (CDH55081)
Szymanowski: Piano Music
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55081  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  

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