PADEREWSKI Minuet. Legend. Mazurka. CHOPIN Nocturne, op. 27/2. Ballade in F. Mazurka, op. 6. Fantasy. SZYMANOWSKI Etude in b. Wariacje • Micha? Szymanowski (pn) • ACCORD ACD 170-2 (66: 50)
This is, simply, one of the most impressiveRead more solo piano debut albums I have heard in a long time. Michal Szymanowski was born in 1988, but there is nothing especially callow about his artistry. He plays this all-Polish recital with a sense of repose and patience that is remarkable. A hallmark for his manner can be found in the performance of the Chopin Nocturne op. 27/1, one of the most familiar and beloved works by the great master. Szymanowski plays it with an uncanny mastery of pacing, voicing, and dramatic emphasis. There is true daring in his feathery pianissimos, which manage to retain a sense of dynamic heft, and the dreamy flow he imparts at the coda recalls such giants as Rubinstein, Moravec, and Horszowski. Oh yes.
Szymanowski is a native Polish lad, and perhaps there is something in the water there that endows the locals with an intuitive sense of rhythm and pace. This quality is notable in the mazurkas, nationalistic dance forms that require a rhythmic and dynamic shaping that can elude non-native performers. Szymanowksi plays this material as naturally as one walks and breaths; there is not a trace of artifice. He finds more in common between Paderewski and Chopin in this form than separates them. Similarly, the pianist seems to have a knack for finding a dramatically convincing tempo and weight, as for example in the Chopin Fantasy, where the final march often sounds rushed in other hands. Szymanowski delivers just the right theatrical strut to bring the music to life.
There are so many technical wizards out there freshly minted from conservatories that it seems scarcely worthwhile to make a point of virtuosity, but here, too, Szymanowski brings something special to bear on the music, and not in any showy way. His tonality is highly alluring, a bit bright, but very colorful. His sense of harmonic voicing is also really keen and smart, most rewarding in the large chords in the Chopin. Finally, but not least, there is Szymanowski’s wonderfully shaped phrasing, featuring extraordinarily fine gradations of dynamics, again, most appreciated in the big Chopin works, including his powerful account of the ballade, but also in the exquisite shadings of the nocturne.
The program, too, is not from the usual cookie-cutter. The three Polish composers are connected by a dramatic and stylistic arc, with the mighty Chopin at the center of the mix, but surprisingly, not really dominating it (although he is obviously the most important of the group). This is because the individual pieces are connected by certain folkloric elements, mainly in the form of the mazurka (which appears in the Karol Szymanowski variation set Wariacje, which was written in the early 20th century and dedicated to Artur Rubinstein). Even the once insanely popular, now rather trite Paderewski Minuet sounds right at home here, and as charming and graceful as can be imagined. This kid is a comer. Keep listening.