Michel Tibbaut (Radio Belge)

(approximate translation of original review in French from Res Musica.com (original version copyright)

Karol Szymanowski, the admirable Polish musician whose work (and not a moment too soon!) I am just beginning to discover, was initially influenced by his compatriot predecessor Chopin, then, through Rachmaninov and Scriabin, found a language uniquely his won, in order to express the complex meanderings and secrets of his tormented personality. The piano was his instrument, so it is not surprising that a great deal of his output as devoted to it: by the age of twenty, Szymanowski had written a large quantity of piano music, of which the Nine Preludes and Prelude in C sharp minor were only recently (in 1996) discovered and which are included in world premiere recordings on this complete survey of his piano works. The influence of Chopin lessens dramatically as we move on to the Four Studies of which the third became very famous and was orchestrated by composer and conductor Grzegorz Fitelberg (1879-1953),founder of the National Symphony Orchestra of Radio Poland and a great friend of the composer.

The Second Piano Sonata, written for Arthur Rubinstein in 1912, is probably one of the most accomplished of Szymanowski’s works; however it is only from the short cycle of Métopes that the true style of the composer begins to show, extremely influenced by French impressionism, with echoes of Ravel and even visions of the still-to-come “Polish School” of composers such as Serocki. The Twelve Studies are, of course, a specific homage to the Études of Chopin, but the influence of Ravel is always present, with echoes of Scriabin and Prokofiev. In the same way, in the Mazurkas, Szymanowski leaves the model of Chopin to lead to a very characteristic personal style in which we can discover new sound worlds, in the proper sense of the term.

Few pianists dare to venture into the subtle and complex musical universe of Szymanowski, because to do so requires a faultless technique allied with an intense and refined sensibility, without all of which the interpreter is at peril. In 1994 Nimbus Records offered us an extremely honourable interpretation of the complete piano works by Martin Jones, but which was sullied in places by misinterpretation. To hear the sound universe of Szymanowski in all its splendour, one needs the love and sensitivity of Korean pianist Sinae Lee, who offers this new performance in a brilliant recording on Divine Art, which gives the impression that there is no intermediary between pianist and listener. It is impressive that a pianist from a culture at first sight a long way from ours musically can immerse herself so well in this sound universe; even more extraordinary in that it is her début recording, made while she also completes a doctorate on the subject of … Szymanowski’s piano music! It is not surprising that her playing has attracted wide commendation . The result, quite simply is that everything here runs admirably right from the beginning and is quite simply extraordinary.

—Michel Tibbaut