Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 2; Romance, Op. 23; Three Paganini Caprices

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COMPOSERS: Szymanowski
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 2; Romance, Op. 23; Three Paganini Caprices
PERFORMER: Thomas Zehetmair (violin), Silke Avenhaus (piano); CBSO/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 55607 2 DDD
For the First Concerto, Rattle offers a beautifully lucid reading, unusual in that it resists all temptation to serve up an undifferentiated oriental mush (the concerto dates from the wartime Ukraine period, when Szymanowski conjured up most of his lushest mystical orchestral songs), and draws it instead closer to the great mainstream Romantic concertos.

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Zehetmair is crucial to this. His solo part is a kind of gossamer strand, never overstated, helped by a shyish vibrato, beautiful clarity of line, rhythmic alertness and an intuitive rubato. A beautiful utterance, and never milked.

Rattle supports (indeed shapes) the approach with crystal-clear textures from Miraculous Mandarin-type opening to magical final evanescence. Tiny flickers of firefly woodwind – a bassoon peering through the fugal textures, for example – make of this an unforgettable journey.

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Some will miss the usual appealing, shimmering surface; but the gain in detail is enormous. The Second feels less successful: for Wanda Wilkomirska it was a kind of glorious, wild, foot-tapping Slavonic mountain romp; Marco Polo’s soloist, Roman Lasocki, is mellower and sultrier. Zehetmair’s cadenza work entrances, but his long-bowed legato sweetness rather shades out the East European sparkiness (which Chantal Juillet captures on Decca). One idiomatic woodwind passage in the linking central movement, with violin mutterings above, suggests how things might better have been approached. Roderic Dunnett