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Robert R. Reilly, March 2011

From the first part of the 20th century comes Karol Szymanowski’s hypnotic, Slavic version of the Stabat Mater, composed from 1924 to 1926. Szymanowski translated the Latin text into Polish (this is the only treatment in the vernacular that I know of). This substantially changes the character of the work. No suggestion of the liturgical is left, though Szymanowski does employ intriguing hints of the Dies Irae and of the sound of church bells. Otherwise, this is very much a Polish national and personal work, expressing his nation’s and Szymanowski’s special relationship to Mary. The musical idiom is also somewhat exotic and Eastern in its references. The work calls for soprano, contralto, and baritone soloists; chorus; and orchestra. It is exquisitely beautiful, both tender and powerful. Naxos offers a stunning, deeply felt performance on CD 8.553687, with the Polish State Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra, directed by Karol Stryja.

Penguin Guide, January 2009

Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater is not only one of his greatest achievements but one of the greatest choral works of the 20th century. This welcome account has the advantage of highly sensitive conducting and an excellent response from the orchestra, but some of the solo singing is less distinguished, and Jadwiga Gadulanka’s intonation is less than perfect. The Litany to the Virgin Mary is another late work of poignancy, but Demeter has exotic, almost hallucinatory textures. It is all heady and intoxicating stuff, and not to be missed by those with a taste for this wonderful composer.


"their Stabat Mater blazes ecstatically"

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