Szymanowski: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; Mythes for Violin and Piano, Op. 30; Nocturne & Tarantella for Violin and Piano, Op. 28

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COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: Koch Schwann
WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; String Quartet No. 2; Mythes for Violin and Piano, Op. 30; Nocturne & Tarantella for Violin and Piano, Op. 28
PERFORMER: Wilanów String Quartet; Tadeusz Gadzina (violin), Maciej Paderewski (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 3-1155-2 DDD
Szymanowski’s two quartets deserve a place in the repertoire comparable to Janácek’s. They move in a similar sound world, where Eastern folk motifs and a refined impressionism collide.

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The Carmina Quartet’s Denon recording, paired with Webern’s Langsamer Satz , won the 1992 Gramophone chamber music award. The mystical, other-worldly element and pervading intensity of Szymanowski’s writing were matched there by distinctive playing and intonation.

This 68-minute Koch disc – the Denon runs to only 45 minutes – is devoted wholly to Szymanowski. The Wilanów Quartet is at home in this repertoire, having recorded the Second Quartet on Polskie Nagrania ten years earlier. Its ensemble remains strong, but it concentrates on different facets – clarity of counterpoint, and almost a Classicism in places which is closer to Debussy’s quartet than to the more sumptuous Ravel.

This good reading suffers periodic loss of momentum (though the Denon has nebulous sections too). Atmospheric passages, dropped in unexpectedly, give an interesting wrench to perspective. The Wilanów’s presto in the Beethovenian Alla burleska breaches the composer’s instruction; yet it works. The later quartet is likewise clear-voiced: rightly raspy in the folk-based Scherzo, though without the Carmina’s fevered build-up.

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The accompanying violin pieces are a bit piano-dominated, but the third of Szymanowski’s Mythes, ‘Dryads and Pan’, full of dazzling effects which the composer contrived with his friend, the virtuoso Pawel Kochanski, is as good as I’ve heard; and the vigorous Tarantella no less accomplished. Roderic Dunnett