Immersing oneself in Szymanowski’s piano music is an exhilarating and exhausting experience. And it takes a pianist of Sinae Lee’s uncanny expertise to clarify music which, in lesser hands, can easily make you feel as if imprisoned in a hothouse. But whether in early Chopin-inspired Romanticism, the second period’s fin-de-siècle opulence, or the extremes to which Szymanowski takes Scriabin’s later experiments,
Lee is formidably equipped. Rubinstein himself quailed before the Second Sonata’s Reger-like thickets of notes, but even here Lee’s command and lucidity are unfaltering.
Elsewhere she is as true to the spirit as to the letter of very exotic and complex bar. She captures all of the early Prelude’s angst, where the shadows of both Scriabin and Wagner erase much sense of derivation, and she whips up an awe-inspiring virtuoso storm in the Brahmsian fugue concluding the Op.3 Variations. There ss charm and affection, too, in the Christmas-tree sparkle of the First Sonata’s Minuet and a complete identification with the elusive, bittersweet world of the Mazurkas, with their teasing mix of sophistication and primitivism. The Op. 33 Etudes form a flashing lexicon of Szymanowski’s later style and, once again, their demands are met with unflagging brio and refinement.
For the record, Sinae Lee is a Korean-born but Glasgow-based pianist and her astonishing achievement is a rich compensation for the absence of Krystian Zimmerman’s long-awaited Szymanowski disc. At the same time, her finely recorded four-disc set complements highly distinguished recitals by Piotr Anderszewski and Marc-André Hamelin.