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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: 27 minutes 43 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 S71), 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’atmosphète. À des improvisations fantasques où Tïberghien sait creuser du mystère' (Diapason, France) » More

Masques, Op 34

Shéhérazade  [12'22]

Other recordings available for download
Dennis Lee (piano)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Masques were begun in summer 1915 and completed at the same point in the year following. Each of the three pieces begins with a perceptible form of introduction but eludes specific structural definition thereafter. Again frequently requiring three staves, they explore all manner of textural complexities, often passing an inner melodic strand between hands or isolating an inner note from a surrounding chord in the interests of a subtle highlighting of line. Szymanowski composed habitually at the keyboard, and the consistency of his harmonic language is offset by a mercurial sense of deliberately playing hostage to whims, or—since the music perhaps consciously reflects its improvisatory roots—to the discoveries of the moment. Were the harmonic and tonal language not so studiedly elusive, this sense of precarious spontaneity would probably not survive repeated listening in the uncanny way that it does.

Shéhérazade enchants its audience in a slow-moving dance-like narrative which builds to a pair of linked climaxes, each preceded by an escalation of tempo. Between comes a lengthy slower passage, in which D as tonal anchorage is unexpectedly announced via a cadence so conventional that, here, it sounds wholly new. D persists as an undertone to what follows, without ever consolidating its sovereignty. Ultimately the music returns to its openings. The pitch D is balanced by the monotone A heard at the outset, yet without ever suggesting a conventional tonic–dominant relationship. No explicit programme is suggested for this luminously sculptural music, but the context of 1001 Nights, where Shéhérazade’s survival depends upon keeping her new royal husband entertained, lends a subcontext of danger, like that supernatural heightening of sensory awareness heralding an expected extinction.

Tantris le Bouffon is derived from a parody of the Tristan legend by Ernst Hardt, published in 1908. In possibly conscious antithesis to Shéhérazade, who cannot escape the royal chambers, Tantris attempts to break into Isolde’s quarters but is recognized by the dogs, which give the game away. The fact that Isolde is later handed over naked by the King to the lepers is perhaps more than enough (never mind its explanation) to indicate the worm-in-the-rose ambivalence of Szymanowski’s aesthetic, and is of relevance here only because, rather than strictly narrating events, the composer sets out to contrast the coarsely knockabout (in an apparently ugly, rather than humorous, light) with the despairing and the helpless. Perhaps too strange to conjure pathos, this ferociously demanding music hints in its fast passages at odd melodic glimmers of Petrushka. Stravinsky was a recent discovery for Szymanowski at the time of the Masques. Their chosen title may well nod towards the commedia dell’arte tradition to which Petrushka and Russian puppeteering are more generally related.

Sérénade de Don Juan is essentially a rondo. As Alastair Wightman notes in his critical biography of Szymanowski, this is the perfect form for a piece about an egomaniac, since its recurrent theme can stand as the antihero’s ongoing love affair with himself. Moreover, the solitary note D flat (much laboured in the theme) may itself represent the ego of one unwilling to let attention rest elsewhere for very long—even though the theme does appear at other pitches later in the proceedings. If humour is in short supply elsewhere in these works, it is sardonically evident in this movement. The D flat makes a meal of itself in the introduction, like someone very consciously conjuring ‘an entrance’. Palmer notes a possible evocation of someone making a great kerfuffle of tuning up (although in fourths rather than fifths, affording the interesting possibility of a Don who plays double bass rather than violin). Later the music invites comparison with Debussy’s Violin Sonata and, in its repeated-note evocations of flamenco tradition, with the jester figure in Alborada del gracioso, from Ravel’s Miroirs. The gracelessly peremptory ending hints at a petulant flouncing out when initial attention has waned. Describing Scaramouch, an antecedent of Don Juan in English theatre (famously borrowed in music by Darius Milhaud), Brewer’s Dictionary resoundingly dismissed him as ‘very valiant in words, but a poltroon’, a description which fits Szymanowski’s feckless protagonist equally well.

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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