- Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 19, M24
- Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 15, M15
On this first of two LSO Live SACDs devoted to the four symphonies of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, Valery Gergiev, and the London Symphony Orchestra perform the "Symphony No. 1," a passionate but rather dense essay in two expansive sections, which were intended to be the outer movements of a much larger work, and the "Symphony No. 2," which is somewhat more approachable due to its chamber-like writing and coherent four-movement structure. The many influences on Szymanowski's music are a little difficult to untangle, though they are perhaps easier to distinguish in these symphonies than in the last two. The most striking are Richard Strauss and Alexander Scriabin, though to a lesser extent, the pull of Claude Debussy can be heard in soft passages. Overall, Szymanowski's intensely emotional style is comparable to the post-Romantic music of Arnold Schoenberg, in so far as both composers expressed their ideas in highly chromatic and vaguely tonal language, yet found tonality almost too limiting for their purposes. Gergiev delivers surges of emotion and powerful climaxes, and the London Symphony Orchestra plays with great energy and impressive force, and they make fairly convincing cases for these relatively neglected symphonies.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Symphony No. 1 was composed when Szymanowski was only 24, and he seemed to have considered it a youthful indiscretion. Yes, parts sound derivative of Richard Strauss' tone poems, and the structure isn't very tight in places. But the symphony's a work with a lush, romantic sound and that's the work's strength. Gergiev understands that and presents the work with unbridled enthusiasm. These may be the exaggerated passions of youth, but they're genuine -- and in this recording, they're taken seriously. In some ways, Szymanowski's second symphony No. 2 is proto-concerto, with solo violin playing off the orchestra. The influences of Richard Strauss and Max Reger are evident; the former in the first movement, the latter in the intricate second movement's fugue. Gergiev shapes the music to make these relationships more apparent. Szymanowski at 27 was a much more confident composer than he was three years earlier, and Gregiev artfully articulates the structure of the music -- espcially in the theme, variations, and fugue of the second movement. I strongly recommend the SACD version if you have an SACD player. Although a live recording, the performances by the London Symphony Orchestra are immaculate. Subtle details of the sound of the instruments and the acoustics of the hall really make the music come alive. An excellent addition to LSO's self-released catalog.