Rare Szymanowski with Austin Symphony and Emanuel Ax a Texas Treat!
Moniuszko: Bajka (A Fairy Tale) Fantastic Overture
Szymanowski: Symphony No. 4 “Symphonie Concertante” for Piano and Orchestra Op. 60
Michael and Susan Dell Hall
January 13, 2012
We hear a lot about troubled orchestras these days. As the recession lingers on, ticket sales continue to be disappointing and donations are down. The orchestras that survive are the ones that tighten their belts and step up their marketing. They also tend to limit their programming to more popular fare.
The music of Szymanowski (photo: right) is definitely not part of the standard repertoire, but he is an important composer. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to see a production of his opera King Roger; I was struck by the theme of the work – the conflict between paganism and Christianity in Twelfth Century Sicily – and by the originality of the music.
Szymanowski was fascinated not only by the folk music of his native Poland, but also by the art and history of other cultures. His musical style has been called ‘Romantic Impressionism’ and while that is a fairly accurate description, it leaves out the spirituality and folkloric content of many of his works; in short, his was a unique voice in classical music in the first half of the Twentieth Century.
The Symphony No. 4, Symphonie Concertante, composed in 1932, had a major success at its first performance. Although it requires a virtuoso pianist, the orchestral part is more prominent than in the typical concerto; hence, the dual title of the piece.
In the first half of the concert, Emanuel Ax gave a sparkling account of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2; unfortunately, I still have ringing in my ears a superb performance of this same concerto from last October in Montreal. Till Fellner was the soloist with Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony. That performance had everything, including the sound of an exciting new concert hall that does wonders for the string instruments.
All in all, it was a treat to hear the Szymanowski Symphony No.4, Symphonie Concertante and special kudos are in order for a soloist of the stature of Emanuel Ax for bringing it to Austin.