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Szymanowski: Stabat Mater / Crowe, Gardner

Release Date: 09/24/2013 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 5123   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Karol Szymanowski
Performer:  Lucy CrowePamela Helen StephenRobert MurrayGábor Bretz
Conductor:  Edward Gardner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony OrchestraBBC Symphony Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 58 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Once again, Edward Gardner shows that he excels in Szymanowski's rich orchestral tapestries. This performance mixes wild mystery with coruscating brilliance, somehow managing – despite being recorded in Croydon last winter – to breathe the high-mountain air.

– BBC Music Magazine

SZYMANOWSKI Stabat Mater. 1 Harnasie 2 Edward Gardner, cond; 1 Lucy Crowe (sop); 1 Pamela Helen Read more Stephen (mez); 2 Robert Murray (ten); 1 Gábor Bretz (bar); BBC S Ch & O CHANDOS 5123 (SACD: 58: 36 Text and Translation)

I was previously familiar with some but certainly not all of Szymanowski’s music, yet I was immediately captivated by this Stabat Mater and, indeed, caught up in its remarkable musical environment from start to finish. It is, in fact, one of the most touching, intimate, and deeply affecting pieces of music I think I’ve ever heard in my life, and—not knowing it previously—I would still give immense credit to the highly sensitive, and sensitized, reading by soprano Lucy Crowe and conductor Gardner. Crowe’s voice is of the type one seldom hears anymore: a pure, almost Garcia-trained soprano on a par with such legendary names as Isobel Baillie. Gábor Bretz’s rich but somewhat harsh-sounding baritone is not on the same level vocally, but he interprets with great power and imagination. As for the music, it sounds remarkably like a Polish version of neo-Classical Stravinsky, yet with touches of Kódaly here and there. It is the kind of piece that—if you know what I mean—underwhelms you, but in such a way that it makes its impression more by its subtlety than by force. The music is sorrowful, but not in the least sentimental or maudlin. You feel, in a way, as if your energy is being sapped, as if Szymanowski’s lament is your own. The music enters your system through the ears, but is immediately rerouted to the heart.

The switch of mood and style from Stabat Mater to the “Góral Ballet in One Act,” Harnasie, is remarkable and shows an entirely different side of the composer. This music is not only livelier, which one would expect, but in an entirely different style, almost like the (later) music of Alan Rawsthorne or William Walton but with a Polish accent. Again, Szymanowski is primarily but not consistently tonal in approach, and his orchestration here is remarkably colorful, reminding one of some of Rimsky-Korsakov’s finer work. The notes indicate that the composer took eight years to complete it, a surprisingly long time. During its gestation, Szymanowski studied the culture of the Podhale region of the Tatra Mountains, living in Atma, its principal town, and soaking up the exuberance of the local Góral or highlander music. Here, I didn’t feel that Gardner’s conducting was quite raw or energetic enough—my mind’s ear kept hearing someone like Antoni Wit or Artur Rodzi?ski conducting it—but for a British conductor he does pretty well. Tenor Murray has a harsh and unsteady voice, but fortunately his participation is brief. There is tremendous vitality in this music—when the chorus enters, it almost sounds like an orgiastic ritual piece (think of Carmina Burana, but in a different style)—and here one must indeed give Gardner credit for “letting it all hang out.” Surprisingly, the music ends very, very quietly, after a sotto voce section by the tenor.

This surprising and fascinating music receives, as I indicate, excellent performances all round. I strongly suggest that you hear this one yourself.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Stabat mater, Op. 53 by Karol Szymanowski
Performer:  Lucy Crowe (Soprano), Pamela Helen Stephen (Mezzo Soprano), Robert Murray (Tenor),
Gábor Bretz (Bass)
Conductor:  Edward Gardner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra,  BBC Symphony Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925-1926; Poland 
Harnasie, Op. 55 by Karol Szymanowski
Performer:  Lucy Crowe (Soprano), Pamela Helen Stephen (Mezzo Soprano), Robert Murray (Tenor),
Gábor Bretz (Bass)
Conductor:  Edward Gardner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra,  BBC Symphony Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923-1931; Poland 

Sound Samples

Stabat Mater, Op. 53: Stala matka bolejaca (Mother, wowed with grief appalling)
Stabat Mater, Op. 53: I ktoz widzac tak cierpiaca (Is there any, tears withholding)
Stabat Mater, Op. 53: O Matka, zrodlo wszechmilosci (Love's sweet fountain, Mother tender)
Stabat Mater, Op. 53: Spraw, niech placze z Toba razem (In Thy keeping, watching, weeping)
Stabat Mater, Op. 53: Panno slodka, racz mozolem (Maid immaculate, excelling)
Stabat Mater, Op. 53: Chrystus niech mi bedzie grodem (May His sacred cross defend me)
Harnasie, Op. 55: Tableau 1: Redyk (Driving the sheep)
Harnasie, Op. 55: Tableau 1: Scena mimiczna, "zaloty" (Mimic Scene, "Courtship")
Harnasie, Op. 55: Tableau 1: Marsz zbojnicki (The Tatra Robbers' March)
Harnasie, Op. 55: Tableau 1: Scena mimiczna, "Harnas i Dziewczyna" (Mimic Scene, "The Harnas and the Girl")
Harnasie, Op. 55: Tableau 1: Taniec zbojnicki - Final (The Tatra Robbers' Dance - Finale)
Harnasie, Op. 55: Tableau 2: Wesele (The Wedding)
Harnasie, Op. 55: Tableau 2: Cepiny (Entry of the Bride)
Harnasie, Op. 55: Tableau 2: Piesn siuhajow (Drinking Song)
Harnasie, Op. 55: Tableau 2: Taniec goralski (The Tatra Highlanders' Dance)
Harnasie, Op. 55: Tableau 2: Napad harnasiow - Taniec (Raid of the Harnasie - Dance)
Harnasie, Op. 55: Tableau 2: Epilog (Epilogue)

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