Rattle Salutes Szymanowski
"I cannot talk objectively about Szymanowski, for you cannot expect objectivity or reasonability from someone in love. And reasonability is out of place when this music is concerned, anyway.
My first meeting with Szymanowski took place some fifteen years ago. I was having lunch with my friend Paul Crossley, the English pianist. Paul was a man whose advice I used unscrupulously. We would often meet, and he would put a score in front of me and say, 'You should have a look'. But that night he said, 'I've got something special for you', then sat at the piano and played a bit of some piece. I had no idea what it was, but it got me very excited after just a few strokes and I knew it was love from first sight. It was the last part of the 'Stabat Mater' that Paul had played.
The 'Stabat Mater' was in the programme of one of my first concerts with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. I must admit with shame that the choir sang in Latin. We knew, though, that a Polish language version would need to be prepared. And we struggled with that difficult language. Only Finnish and Hungarian are said to be more difficult, and there is not too much similarity between the Birmingham dialect and the Polish language. Only ten letters are pronounced the same in English and in Polish. So it was a character building experience for us on all counts. It took a year to work with the choir, but apparently sopranos can now be understood. I suppose that if Poles tried to sing in Welsh, they would understand our problems. We reached a point where language started to impact the sound of music, its rhythm. For instance, the holding out of the vowels and the proper start of the consonants has lent this music a specific puls. The choir was no longer a group of English singers feeling aloof about a strange, obscure composition. They began to penetrate the music. It was an extraordinary trip. Szymanowski's music bought the ensemble, the choir and the orchestra.
We played the 'Stabat Mater' many times, then moved on to 'Symphony No. 3'. I think we got our timing right with this music. The world was not ready to take it until now. Szymanowski's religious works, such as the 'Stabat Mater' or the 'Litany to the Virgin Mary', respond to the ever more pronounced need for spirituality. Moreover, this music is so splendidly colourful and extremely emotional. The English were at first unable to accept its highly intense and direct emotionality, they had to grow up to it. Now we are ready for it. It has always amazed me why the violinists of the world do not play at least one of Szymanowski's concertos and why the pianists do not play his 'Symphony concertante'. These compositions could have enriched the global repertoire a long time ago. Nowadays it is very important not to limit yourself to twenty or thirty compositions recorded by Toscanini. The public is open to new repertoire. Witness the success of Gorecki. Gorecki has been successful not only with the traditional philharmonic audience. He has a new audience in England, one that did not listen to serious music before. I believe it could be the same with Szymanowski.
I owe the discovery of Szymanowski's 'Symphony No. 3' to Witold Lutoslawski. He said that he had lived in something like a trance for several weeks after he had heard it. It was this music which prompted Lutoslawski to decide he wanted to be a composer. 'Symphony No. 3' is a wonderful, mystical work revealing fascination with the Orient. Its climate meets the needs of contemporary listeners. Yet I believe that it is Szymanowski's later works, when he addresses the Polish heritage, reaches down to the Slavonic roots, makes a sort of reference to Musorgski, is even more valuable for our culture at present. At the end of the twentieth century the rest of the world should discover what you have always known: that Szymanowski is one of the greatest composers of this century." ("Studio" 1994 No. 10)