Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 2; Concert Overture

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 2; Concert Overture
PERFORMER: Lydia Mordkovitch (violin)BBC Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9496
‘Poland’s Last Romantic’ poses problems for the interpreter. Just how much shimmering so-called ‘orientalism’ can one unleash without gushing? Does one restrain those lush, thickly scored climaxes? And how does one capture authentically the folk idiom of Harnasie or the Second Violin Concerto?

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This account of the First I found riveting and absorbing. It is coolly intelligent, with soloist and conductor jointly refusing to be drawn into nebulous, wafting sentiment. It’s not ‘mysterious’ enough for some, perhaps – nothing like the shy, puzzled soul-in-flight of Thomas Zehetmair (with Rattle on EMI), not ‘lost’ in that shimmering woodland Panscape of the crepuscular Micinski poem that fired Szymanowski. But it’s clear-headed, observant, purposeful, with Sinaisky splendidly unfurling the score’s deep-buried tuned percussion and lurking woodwind detail. Punches are not pulled (even in the muscular, double-stopped cadenza), with short, emphatic phrasing preferred at climaxes to the more legato paragraphs of Rattle: in the Scherzando, neither the latter’s wry, Ravelian waltz-parody, nor the CBSO’s eerie trumpet calls are quite matched here.

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The Second Concerto’s opening, plus the dazzling spiccato effects of the BBC Philharmonic’s lower strings at its recapitulation, are beautifully caught. But direction and definition soon capitulate to a messy wall of noise. Better is Zehetmair’s tender understatement, or the more idiomatic Chantal Juillet on Decca. Sinaisky’s reading of the Straussian overture, however, is markedly well-mapped and successful. Roderic Dunnett