City of Birmingham SO/ Rattle, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Sheikh, Rattle and Pole

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.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project