Szymanowski: Symphonies Nos 1 & 2

Reviewed on Fri 09 Aug, 2013

Valery Gergiev believes passionately in the symphonic output of Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), and his promotion of it with the LSO is to be saluted. This bold (if hardly generous) pairing of the Polish master's first two symphonies (both of which serve up a heady cocktail of Scriabin, Reger, Richard Strauss and early Schoenberg) has plenty going for it, not least a no-holds-barred fervour, appreciable sense of drama and at times almost febrile intensity. That said, in the two-movement, relentlessly sinewy and thickly scored First Symphony (which the composer subsequently disowned), these performers don't sound as attuned to the idiom as Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic on a 2009 Naxos disc. The altogether more ambitious Second comes off better, though even here there isn't quite the silky opulence or see-through clarity offered by Edward Gardner's recent BBC SO version on Chandos, let alone Antál Dorati's late-70s Detroit SO Decca recording. You may also need to crank up the volume a touch higher than usual.
–Andrew Achenbach