I had a feeling Anderszewski would be remarkable in this repertoire. I was right. Since ordering this just over a week ago, I relistened to the two Martins in this repertoire to prepare myself. As expected, I prefer Mr Roscoe to Mr Jones, though I find both very good. Both play with passion, technical assurance, and enough exoticism to make the pieces come to life. Piotr Anderszewski is in another league altogether. To an extent, Anderszewski does for these works what Jerzy Semkow does for the great Song of the Night: he plays the music so that it is Szymanowski we hear. With the two Martins we hear a mix of influences, here late Scriabin and late Debussy. With Anderszewski those influences are still heard, but more distantly.

The disc opens with the great Masques. Here is a work all about eroticism and exoticism, color and shading, languor and power. How to blend them, that is the trick. All three of the pieces are based on well known legends – Scheherazade, Tristan, and Don Juan – so one must blend the familiar and unfamiliar. Anderszewski manages better than anyone I’ve heard. The piece opens with Scheherazade, and right from the outset it’s clear this is top notch stuff. Pete opens slowly, languidly, yet colorfully. As he builds up the tension and volume, and spins out the dance like elements, the young woman can be heard to be seducing her master; she is not weak and inept; she is in control. There’s obviously something nicely erotic about the whole thing. Remarkably, Anderszewski stretches this piece out and plays notably slower than in other versions I’ve heard, but not only does he not sound slow or boring, he actually makes the work tenser and more intriguing. Tantris the Buffoon presents Tristan disguised as a clown in the court of King Mark out to seduce his beloved Isolde but restrained by the circumstances. The music of the jester is amazing: it’s both comical and pointedly modern in its representation of the jester’s bells and tricks. When the music swells to an impassioned climax, Anderszewski’s control is total and his tone ravishing and his playing heated. The Serenade of Don Juan contains some slightly less heated music, but one filled with the influence of Debussy in Etudes mode, and does an estimable job of portraying the amoral lecher as that. Everything about this work is remarkable.

The next work on the disc is the Third Sonata. This represents a return to more straightforward, absolute music, though music of its time – the latter part of the First World War. The music is informed by all of the developments up to that time, with the dissonance and gnarly sounds to go with it. But much of the work is quite attractive. It opens with an energetic and occasionally biting Presto, with Anderszewski playing with total command and precision, though he never revels in the virtuosic aspects. The Adagio opens with Anderszewski deftly using prolonged yet perfectly timed pauses and powerful yet perfectly rich bass chords. The movement moves along at just the right pace, setting the stage for both the short and exciting Scherzando and the concluding Fugue. The fugue can be played quickly, of course, but that’s not Anderszewski’s way. His way is slower, more deliberate, with every point and counterpoint clearly and musically rendered. A fugue this may be, but it’s not a didactic one at all. It maintains something of the exotic nature of this composer’s music. Again, Anderszewski’s command is remarkable, and he never produces an ugly tone. Some of the higher notes are a bit sharp, perhaps, but that’s clearly the way they are intended to sound. I certainly didn’t wince or reach for the volume control – and I was listening to it loud.

The disc concludes with the great Metopes, a triptych based on the Odyssey, with one movement dedicated to the Sirenes, one to Calypso, and one to Nausicaa. Sirenes starts off slowly and alluringly, mixing the sound of the sea with the distant call of the lovelies. As the mythical creatures get closer, their call grows louder, until finally it becomes apparent that not love but certain doom awaits as the music rumbles and swells into violent and overwhelming force, the piano pushing out an aural tidal wave. Szymanowski does as good a job as evoking the sea musically as one can hope. Calypso, too, has her charms, and she is hypnotic, with the composer drawing some inspiration from Scriabin. But our hero eludes her. Nausicaa starts delicately and with some alluring charm, but as advances are rejected, the piece becomes more and more frenzied, with dissonance after lovely dissonance to tickle (or grate, I suppose) one’s ear. Here some dazzling virtuosity is needed, and Anderszewski delivers with no problems. This is a magnificent recording of this magnificent work.

So here is a disc that more than met my high expectations. Anderszewski’s playing is astounding and helps to create a sound world perfectly suitable for this music. At times hazy and mystical, at times furious, at times unabashedly exotic, and sometimes surreal, Anderszewski knows his Szymanowski. As is his standard practice, he stretches the works more than many or most would dare, but he succeeds. For instance, the liner notes comment that the Third Sonata is no more than fifteen minutes, yet Anderszewski stretches it out to over twenty. The piece never sounds slow, thick, heavy, or opaque, though. Nor do any of the other works. They sound nearly miraculous. Perhaps Martin Roscoe still represents a safer bet to introduce these works, but for those already converted, this disc is pretty much a must-have. It’s one of my discs of the year, that much is certain.

Oh, SOTA sound.