Critic’s Choice

March 4, 2015 at 7:40 pm

By David Wright

Karol Szymanowski

Before names like Lutosławski, Górecki and Penderecki began to be heard around the world, Karol Szymanowski was Poland’s best-known 20th-century composer. Born in 1882, the same year as Igor Stravinsky, Szymanowski found his own path to modernity by way of a post-Romantic musical language deeply colored by impressionism.

Although he is remembered today mostly for his songs, chamber music, and piano pieces, Szymanowski considered his best work to be the opera King Roger, composed in 1920-24 following a creative crisis. In the opera’s plot, the title character, a medieval King of Sicily, seems to stand in for the composer himself, facing a choice between a life of Apollonian reason and one of Dionysian sensuality. Szymanowski felt he had done justice to both points of view in the music, and in the process found his own way forward as a composer.

It’s a heart-warming story, but how is the music? Can there still be neglected masterpieces in this age of everything-available-all-the-time? The Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit seems to think so. He has been traveling the world conducting performances of King Roger, and this weekend he brings the Gospel of Roger to the Hub with concert performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and baritone Mariusz Kwiecień in the title role.

Conductor Dutoit has a habit of generating plenty of drama on the BSO podium, and there’s every reason to think Szymanowski’s passion and spirituality will burn bright in Symphony Hall this weekend.

The performances will be 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday in Symphony Hall. bso.org; 617-266-1200.

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