City of Birmingham SO/ Rattle, Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Sheikh, Rattle and Pole
Friday 25 October 2002
A decade ago the South Bank mounted a festival – a very good one – featuring the music of Karol Szymanowski, under the fatuous title of The Last Romantic. Romanticism lives on, and was kicking long before the concept was poached to characterise post-classical kitsch or Victorian New Wave. The 14th century was riddled with it. Just when Khajeh Shamseddin Mohammad Hafiz Shirazi (c1320-89), whose rapt poems Szymanowski set in translation in his two Hafiz song cycles of 1911 and 1914, was sharing his Sufi vision with sheikhs in post-Genghis Khan southern Persia.
Most of the impressive Polish recordings of Szymanowski's song cycles date from the 1980s. The gay, chain-smoking Szymanowski (1882-1937), once a doyen of the 1920s European avant garde, is enjoying an Indian summer. No one has done more to enhance his reputation and capture the by turns pure and scented idyllism of his music than Sir Simon Rattle and the CBSO. This week, shedding Berlin for his former Midland stomping ground, a relatively restrained Rattle introduced Symphony Hall audiences to three unfamiliar Szymanowski works: the song cycles Love Songs of Hafiz and Songs of an Infatuated Muezzin – not a contradiction in terms, earthly passion being a Sufi reflection of the divine – plus Harnasie (The Mountain Robbers), the astonishing ballet with voices, one of his last works.
Rattle is poised to record these for EMI, and the performances seem all but ready. A few ritenutos need firming up and the mountain band music could beruder – amid Gorale cacophonies the CBSO displayed just a little too much politesse: the wild explosions of this riot of a ballet (Polish Robin Hood-cum-Dick Turpin eyes peasant wench, gatecrashes her wedding with motley mates and abducts her amid Tatra twirling) are meant to sound pretty savage.
These are temporary cavils; Rattle has a terrific team in the CBSO and chorus. Tenor Timothy Robinson is perfect. His rustic cheerleading was aptly swashbuckling and the Brigand's final meltdown "Are you not glad to see me?" was just as his serenade has it: "pure as a lamb in heaven". Equally convincing was his intoning of Jaroslav Iwaszkiewicz's lovelorn, minaret-hoist muezzin in Szymanowski's 1918 cycle, with which the rapt King Roger forms the culmination of his charged, luxuriant middle-period works. Intriguingly Szymanowski's Muezzin orchestration, finished 15 years later, is scored for compact forces, which gave Rattle the chance to tease out the purity of the loveliest song, "The City Asleep", as the disappointed voyeur toasts his lotus-like putative lover.
Katarina Karneus was an enchanting soloist in four of the eight orchestrated Hafiz songs; we missed Szymanowski's exquisite culmination, "The Grave of Hafiz", but Rattle encored No 3, "Dance", which makes a florid finale. The CBSO – tongued flute, twin keyboards, Jonathan Kelly's oboe and Richard Jenkinson's brief cello solo – were terrific. Once Karneus has relaxed, these Hafiz songs should prove world-beating.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
- 4 Phil Neville backtracks on Tomas Rosicky 'I'd smash him' comments from Match of the Day 2
- 5 British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Mr Selfridge series 3: Actress Kara Tointon says 'we're starting to see his demise'
Ed Sheeran texts Noel Gallagher to offer him tickets after Wembley Stadium rant
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
Taylor Swift banned from Triple J Hottest 100: Fans react to epic #Tay4Hottest100 defeat
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally