Concert Overture, Op.12
Symphony No.4 (Sinfonia concertante), Op.60
Symphony No.2 in B flat, Op.19
Louis Lortie (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 3 April (Symphony No.2) and 2 July 2012 in Watford Colosseum, Hertfordshire, England
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: February 2013
CD No: CHANDOS CHSA 5115 [SACD]
Duration: 71 minutes
Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra open with a sparkling account of Karol Szymanowski’s outsize Concert Overture (1905/13), owing to Richard Strauss and Max Reger while sowing the seeds of the Polish composer’s mature compositional style. This is an exciting performance, with soaring strings, whooping horns and full-bodied climaxes that give repeated bursts of affirmation and reaching the ecstatic state required. Gardner’s speeds are challengingly fast, heightening the thrill of the opening pages, and from there the brio of the piece is never lost.
The Fourth Symphony (1932), featuring a piano soloist (and dedicated to Arthur Rubinstein), is very different, both symphonic and concertante, Szymanowski’s use of tonality becoming ever more ambiguous. There are still distinctive themes, but they are more elusive – and when the piano is used there is additional rhythmic impetus. Louis Lortie is receptive to these elements, playing superbly and achieving a glassy tone quality that complements the opulence of the orchestra. Gardner presents the slower music as mysterious and colourful, while the finale brings an impressively powerful surge, led by the piano. There are many revelations here.
The Second Symphony went through an extended period of creation and revision (covering 1909 to 1936), counterpoint high on Szymanowski’s agenda. There is an abundance of intertwining melodies, lucidly sounded here, the violin of Stephen Bryant particularly impressive in the opening pages. Gardner succeeds in uniting the potentially lopsided two-movement structure, the second embracing a Theme and Variations and then a Fugue (each section is helpfully given a separate track).
The BBC Symphony Orchestra plays with great virtuosity and sensitivity, and the recorded sound is excellent its marriage of spaciousness and tangibility. It is encouraging to note the current exposure of Szymanowski’s music, with a cycle of the symphonies due from the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev on LSO Live. These Chandos versions are currently at the front of the field. Edward Gardner displays a close affinity with this strange and often beautiful music, leading performances of passion, weight and clarity.