Sobczak on Szymanowski

On January 31, pianist Radosław Sobczak performed a recital commemorating Karol Szymanowski’s 80th Death Anniversary in the Chamber Hall of the Warsaw Philharmonic, as a part of their Piano Masters Series. The program included Johann Sebastian Bach – Largo from Organ Sonata no. 5 in C major BWV 529 (version by S. Feinberg); Franz Schubert – Wanderer Fantasy in C major Op. 15; Alberto Ginastera – Argentine Dances, op. 2; Karol Szymanowski – 9 Preludes op. 1; and Karol Szymanowski – Piano Sonata no. 2 in A major op. 21.

The following is how Szymanowski described conductor Grzegorz Fitelberg and pianist Artur Rubinstein’s reactions to his new sonata; the latter premiered it in Berlin in 1911. “Before Artur’s arrival I had just completed my second Piano Sonata. At first I did not think much of it, but when Artur carefully studied and played it, he brought out all its “hidden virtues.” Consequently, ‘Ficio’ and Artur enthused over this sonata, almost claiming it superior to the Symphony.” The sonata has some formal elements in common with the Symphony No. 2 mentioned in the letter. Both works mark an important stylistic caesura in the composer’s output, ending the post-Romantic phase which had begun with his earliest surviving music—the Preludes, written by an 18-year-old Szymanowski at the frontier manor in Tymoszówka (now Timoshivka in the Ukraine). Still distinctly influenced by Chopin and Scriabin, they already foreshadow his later musical explorations and bear testimony to the young artist’s highly original talent. Also this cycle attracted the admiration of his friend Artur Rubinstein, and Szymanowski decided to have them printed. Consequently, they now open the catalogue of his works as his Opus 1.