Years ago I came across a set of Lps from the Polish label Polskie Nagrania Muza, which made me an instant convert to the music of composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), up until that point in my life only a figure I had read about in Artur Rubinstein’s “My Young Years”. Most of the recordings in this 4 lp set have been reissued, but for some reason this extraordinary, and perhaps unique(?) example of Szymanowski’s own piano playing has not been widely circulated. It seems to be from an acetate recording of some kind, rather than a commercially issued 78 rpm, and is not terribly vivid as presented on the bonus 45 rpm disc tucked away on the inside of the booklet for the set. But the murky sound can’t disguise, or perhaps it even adds something, to the composer’s wonderfully impressionistic, free style! The rubato is quite different from what you will hear in subsequent recordings of these works. It rather reminds me of Béla Bartók’s playing, which similarly casts a different, more flexible light on his works than the style adopted by so many later performers who generally stress the rhythmic over the melodic element.
The flip side of the 45 rpm disc contains two examples of Szymanowski speaking. I’ve also included the Borodin Quartet’s recording of the Second String Quartet, which seems to be one of the group’s more obscure recordings, and has not been reissued. I don’t know when it was recorded, or if it was a Muza original.
Mazurka Op. 50, No. 13
Mazurka Op. 62, No. 1
Karol Szymanowski, Piano
Speech made in Prague on the occasion of the first performance of “King Roger” on Oct. 21, 1932
Fragment of an interview with the Stage-manager of the “Narodne Divadlo”, Munclinger on the occasion of the first performance of the “Harnasie” ballet in Prague, on May 10, 1935
Polskie Nagrania Muza 45 rpm N 0181
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 56
Borodin String Quartet
Rostislav Dubinsky, Yaroslav Alexandrov, Violins
Dmitri Shebalin, Viola
Valentin Berlinsky, Cello
Polskie Nagrania Muza XL 0126
Note: The two images at the top of this post have been cleaned up (thanks Peter!) after I included them in the above files, so if you want these versions, just save and replace the older versions.