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#1964854 - 09/26/12 04:05 PM Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata
fnork Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/04
Posts: 1579
Loc: Helsinki, finland
Is this piece insane or what? While I had heard it on recordings many times already, it wasn't until a performance I heard last week that made me realize what kind of work this is. Several recordings I had come across are by pianists who seem not fully able to cope with the monumental difficulties of the music, and tempi come out much slower than intended, and a lot of the power seems to be lost. Last week, however, I had the pleasure of hearing this young pianist play it brilliantly (scroll down to the 2nd round of his performance to have a listen to it):

http://yle.fi/musiikki/tapahtumat/maj-lind-pianokilpailu-2012/kilpailijat/oskar_jezior.html

As you'll listen, you'll notice that there's hardly a lack of power or wildness in the playing - if anything, there seems to be an excess of these elements in his playing. The criticism of the playing that kept coming back was that it was all loud, undifferentiated and just molto appassionato non stop. However, having followed the piece with the score in hand and re-listened to it many times, it's not only clear that what you hear is a very close reading of the score, but also, it seems that the pianist has thought carefully about these things. As I've spoken to him afterwards, he explained how he often has gotten kicked out from competitions playing this piece, getting the very same complaint most of the time. "Why do you play this piece, it sounds weird".

In my case however, the performance I heard triggered a sort of obsession with this music, an obsession which I think is present in every bar of the piece. Just as the Hammerklavier is hardly "pleasant to listen to", Szymanowski seems to have created something similar with his extreme late-romantic tonal language. The monumental second movement is a set of variations, including two dance variations (sarabande and menuet) and finishing with a grande double fugue with the entire final section splattered with indications like "molto passionato", "grandioso ed imposante", "marcatissimo con passione", "tumultoso", "deciso", "agitato", "energico" etc etc. With romanticism sort of tumbling over at this time in music history, it's a rather wild and savage essay in said genre that Szymanowski presents us with. Incidentally, the twin-work of this sonata, the 2nd symphony, is also in two movements with the 2nd movemetn being in variation-form, also with two dance-variations, and ending in a double fugue, once again. It was written right after the sonata, but already shows a signs of a more sensitive style. I'm curios to hear your thoughts on this very extreme music, and on the performance posted - I do hope I'm not the only one enjoying it greatly. Is this music worthy being played more often, or is it more of an exaggerated and bombastic remain from late-romanticism? It seems, in any case, to be a very extreme point in Szymanowski's style, and he never returned to this kind of writing, favoring more subtle and sparse scorings - in general. He even said, having discovered what would be his big influences (Ravel, Stravinsky, debussy etc), that he from that point rather hated the germanic school - not talking about the "good old" germans, but the late-romantic composers.


Thoughts, people? And one question from me - anyone have a favorite recording of this? I'm trying to find something I could consider decent...Martin Roscoe and Martin Jones didn't do much for me, Sinae Lee seems to handle the piece better though....
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#1964857 - 09/26/12 04:07 PM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: fnork]
fnork Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/04
Posts: 1579
Loc: Helsinki, finland
Here's an interesting article on the piece:

http://www.karolszymanowski.pl/watch-listen/piano-solo/piano-sonata-no-2-a-major-op-21-1910-1911/

And a quote on the piece, from an article about Oskar Jezior:

"Jezior will then present the Theme and Variations from the Second Sonata of fellow Pole Karol Szymanowski. This work also resists public performance, but for a more practical reason. As Jezior, 26, said in an interview with The Journal, the sonata “borders on the unplayable” but contains “some of the most bombastic and titillating piano music ever produced.”"

http://www.juilliard.edu/journal/2011-2012/1109/articles/bachauer.php
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#1964865 - 09/26/12 04:18 PM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: fnork]
Goldberg Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/08/03
Posts: 1229
Loc: U.S.
Fantastic comments about the piece, fnork! I've been hooked on it in a similar way ever since I heard a live recording by Hamelin many years ago (and he, of course, is not lacking technically in it--although it's somewhat telling that the video performance on YouTube reveals that even he uses the score). I've never thought this particular piece "sounds weird" and had always imagined that it would be a great competition piece if one could do it well. I'll have to give a listen to the pianist above, I'm sure it's incredible. Definitely something I'd wish to do if I ever develop the capacity for it, and the time to devote to it.

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#1964900 - 09/26/12 05:13 PM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: fnork]
dolce sfogato Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/29/10
Posts: 2594
Loc: Netherlands
I always think a fusion between Scriabin and Reger must have some serious consequenses: hardly legible, playable, enjoyable, hummable(sorry), a good pianistic effort might avoid these hurdles, never heard one though, even by the hardiest, so maybe it's the piece?
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Longtemps, je me suis couch de bonne heure, but not anymore!

Chopin op.28/20/31/39/54

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#1964910 - 09/26/12 05:23 PM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: fnork]
fnork Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/04
Posts: 1579
Loc: Helsinki, finland
Actually, I'd say that the 2nd sonata DOES have a decent amount of "tunes" - especially comparing to many other Szymanowski works. The theme of the 2nd movement is simple, elegant and not un-hummable. The two dance-variations are relatively simple, harmonically, as well. The fugue is another matter of course, but so is the fugue of the hammerklavier for example - it IS preceeded by a gorgeous slow movement though, and similarly, the Szymanowski fugue is preceeded by the dance variations. The 2nd theme of the 1st movement isn't THAT overly complex either - though, I guess that's it when it comes to memorable tunes in that movement.


Edited by fnork (09/26/12 05:24 PM)
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#1964914 - 09/26/12 05:30 PM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: fnork]
dolce sfogato Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/29/10
Posts: 2594
Loc: Netherlands
still I think Szymanowski overplayed his hand here, and more so in the 3rd sonata, I prefer his opp.3/10 variationcycles, and why is his Fantasy op.14 never played/mentioned, I think it's a masterpiece!
_________________________
Longtemps, je me suis couch de bonne heure, but not anymore!

Chopin op.28/20/31/39/54

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#1964932 - 09/26/12 05:51 PM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: fnork]
fnork Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/04
Posts: 1579
Loc: Helsinki, finland
The thing is - and I cannot validate this at all - that I get the feeling he knew he "overplayed his hand", and he just wanted to try just how far he could reach in this very piece. We know how Ravel said that he wanted Scarbo to be a caricature of Romanticism, but that, he confessed (to Vlado Perlemuter) to have been taken away with it, in the process of writing it. Back to Szymanowski - even the 3rd sonata seems more sparse (and is considerably easier to play) by comparison. This sonata is just monumental in every sense, and it's no surprise that the composer compared it to Hammerklavier in one of the articles mentioned above:

"From today’s perspective, those “contrapuntal tricks” and “polyphonic complications”, as well as many other avantgarde stylistic features of Sonata No. 2, testify rather to the artistic value of this, the first fully mature of Szymanowski’s piano compositions. However, these tricks undoubtedly affected the virtually finger-breaking technical demands placed on the pianists, including those of today. After Rubinstein, for many years the only virtuoso to include this work in his regular repertory was Sviatoslav Richter. The composer himself thought that his Sonata No. 2 would present the pianist with a challenge comparable to Beethoven’s Große Sonate für das Hammerklavier op. 106, or to Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes: “I don’t know who will be playing all that, because it’s long and devilishly difficult”."
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#1964933 - 09/26/12 05:55 PM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: fnork]
fnork Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/04
Posts: 1579
Loc: Helsinki, finland
Just discovered this incredible Richter live recording! Stupendous!!!!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiO6O_p6uZ4
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#1964945 - 09/26/12 06:12 PM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: fnork]
dolce sfogato Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/29/10
Posts: 2594
Loc: Netherlands
I still think Reger's Bach-variations are a stroll in the park compared to the chase in the jungle that is (to me) Szymanowski's 2nd sonata, even Dukas' sounds nice compared to this ultimate try to say everything at once and forever.
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Longtemps, je me suis couch de bonne heure, but not anymore!

Chopin op.28/20/31/39/54

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#1965105 - 09/27/12 04:26 AM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: fnork]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7422
Originally Posted By: fnork
Just discovered this incredible Richter live recording! Stupendous!!!!!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiO6O_p6uZ4


Yes, it instantly became my favorite performance of this work when I first heard it earlier this year. I thought I had mentioned it somewhere here before, but I can't find the post, so maybe not.

Until I heard this Richter performance, I'd been thinking that the piece just might be too big in concept to actually be played convincingly in real life - it has always felt to me like it wants to be more than what one person at a single piano can do. And I think there's just something about that kind of very dense, "over-ripe" Straussian harmony and texture that is at odds with the instrument. OTOH, now that I've heard the Richter, a few other pianists come to mind who might be able to pull it off (Sokolov, Ohlsson, for example).

Even though I can't play either one, I've slowly read through both the 2nd and 3rd sonatas (the 3rd many times; the 2nd not so often), and the 3rd has always seemed the more difficult of the two. It's interesting that you think the 2nd is the more difficult. It's definitely thicker in texture in general, but that, rather unexpectedly, has the odd effect of making it easier to play, at least for me.

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#1965723 - 09/28/12 11:12 AM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: fnork]
fnork Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/04
Posts: 1579
Loc: Helsinki, finland
Interesting comments, wr. Do you (or anyone else) know other recordings of the piece worth checking out...?

I am rather sure that the 2nd is much harder to pull of in performance than the 3rd, which is somewhat "thinner" texturally. But surely, it's a extremely demanding work - I'm not really able to compare the two...however, I do know that Oskar Jezior considers the fugue in the 2nd sonata much harder than the fugue in Hammerklavier (which he has recorded beautifully, btw), so that says something, I guess...
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#1965910 - 09/28/12 05:38 PM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: fnork]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7422
Originally Posted By: fnork
Do you (or anyone else) know other recordings of the piece worth checking out...?


In a way, any recording of the piece is probably worth checking out, just because there are so few. That said, I remember one by Andrzej Stefanski as being fairly good - it's been years since I listened to it, though, and I don't remember what it was about it that I liked. Maybe just getting through all the notes impressed me! smile

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#1966024 - 09/29/12 01:30 AM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: dolce sfogato]
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8695
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
Originally Posted By: dolce sfogato
I still think Reger's Bach-variations are a stroll in the park compared to the chase in the jungle that is (to me) Szymanowski's 2nd sonata, even Dukas' sounds nice compared to this ultimate try to say everything at once and forever.

I am not particularly convinced that Szymanowski has given us a masterpiece.

Interesting that you bring up the Dukas, which I know very well. William S. Newman, in his book 'The Sonata Since Beethoven' compares it with a similar sonata by his countryman, Vincent d'Indy. (I have only read through the latter piece, have never heard a recording.)

Newman suggests that d'Indy was the greater composer than Dukas (which I might agree with), and goes on to point out that the former piece is much more concentrated, compressing 'Dukas' 65 minutes into 38'.

The usual Reger comparisons arise, but that seems a bit of the usual French hangover from the collective obsession with Wagner. Dukas and d'Indy are generally considered disciples of Franck, though in hindsight they seemed to have missed what was unique about Franck and went on to worship at the altar of the Germans.
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#1966047 - 09/29/12 03:26 AM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: fnork]
jeffreyjones Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/31/10
Posts: 2229
Loc: San Jose, CA
The feeling I always get when listening to the pre-Impressionistic, Straussian Szymanowski is that he had a lot to write, but not much to say. There isn't any kind of a voice that comes through. Even the famous Op. 4/4 Etude is little more than a retread of Scriabin's Op. 8/11 with a big climax. It's not until there's music like Metopes and Masques that I find much to love, but the Mazurkas, Op. 50 are his real masterwork.

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#1966092 - 09/29/12 07:21 AM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: fnork]
Jophiel Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/07/10
Posts: 49
I love early works by Szymanowski, I´m working on B flat minor variations and it´s amazing piece! I LOVE it! :-)
This sonata is good, but not my personal favorite :-)

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#1966122 - 09/29/12 08:44 AM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: fnork]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7422
Another recording of it that is worth hearing, I think, because the pianist seems to really love the music -


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#1966994 - 09/30/12 06:13 PM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: jeffreyjones]
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8695
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
Originally Posted By: jeffreyjones
The feeling I always get when listening to the pre-Impressionistic, Straussian Szymanowski is that he had a lot to write, but not much to say. There isn't any kind of a voice that comes through. Even the famous Op. 4/4 Etude is little more than a retread of Scriabin's Op. 8/11 with a big climax. It's not until there's music like Metopes and Masques that I find much to love, but the Mazurkas, Op. 50 are his real masterwork.

Would tend to agree, and certainly there are a lot of notes per square inch in S's piano works. I do not know the Mazurkas, but will look into them.

If Szymanowski's piano works do not communicate much to me, I have very fond memories of a performance I attended of his opera King Roger. I loved every moment of it and subsequently purchased the recording. Also, don't miss the Stabat Mater, an incredible work, perhaps his masterpiece.
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#1969223 - 10/05/12 07:30 PM Re: Szymanowski's 2nd piano sonata [Re: wr]
Ridicolosamente Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/08/08
Posts: 1448
Loc: Miami, Florida, USA
Sorry I'm late to the party.
Thanks so much for sharing that link. I checked out the Szymanowski as well as the other performances and enjoyed them.

This sonata pops up from time to time.
[see here]

I've always been fascinated by the second sonata (though I adore the third sonata far more.) I like the comparison to the Hammerklavier, though I feel the similarity lies more in magnitude. I believe the architecture of Szymanowski's fugue in this sonata is more reminiscent of Beethoven's Op 110.

I think part of the challenge of this work for both the performer and listener is the high risk of become de-synthesized to excessive romanticism and the "loud upon loud upon loud." It makes me think of Rachmaninoff's Op 23 Bb Prelude.. which is so frequently played, and which I don't "get" at all. It hurts my ears.

Szyamowski's 2nd sonata doesn't, though it's so massive and dense that the score should be handy to aide appreciation of the work. When I look at the score of the third piano sonata, one of the words that always comes to mind is "exquisite." Szymanowski's writing on the page is so beautiful to observe. Whether ppp or fff, the third sonata is so elegant.

I don't love the first movement of the second sonata. I wouldn't mind an edited-down version.. e.g. those fff preciptandos... they seem so trivial. There's so much other turbulence in the movement that I don't know is really effectively executed. The theme/variations and fugue are the real jewels. The coda/finale is incredible. I can't help but think of this massive coda that came some 90 years before it:



fnork, it's interesting that you note the "power" and "wildness" as necessary for the piece. I completely agree, however, in the end, I believe too much unharnessed power can knock-over or simply annihilate some of the real emotion of the finale. The Martin Jones recording isn't my favorite, I find it a little too calculated and clean at times, and his tempo for the finale is slower than I feel it should be played. Despite all this, I feel he pulls off one of the more convincing finales of this sonata. He takes deep breaths, shapes each measure, highlights the different voices, and commands the way to this extremely powerful climax - probably my favorite moment in the entire sonata:



I can truly savour the majesty of the finale in Jones' performance. Other than that, I don't have a favorite recording, though the Richter recording is a gem. Could you imagine having been in the same room at the time?

On a separate note, has anyone else noted what a devilishly handsome man Szymanowski was?



-Daniel
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