Szymanowski/Stravinsky

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Szymanowski/Stravinsky
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 2; Violin Concerto
PERFORMER: Chantal Juillet (violin); Montreal SO/Charles Dutoit
CATALOGUE NO: 436 837-2 DDD
Szymanowski’s two violin concertos are an ideal way of getting to know this sensual late-Romantic composer. By any standards this is a fine recording, beautifully engineered, with violin and orchestra well balanced. The Montreal players produce a sumptuous, full-blooded sound, with clear detail from solo wind and muted brass. Chantal Juillet is a characterful soloist, well on top of the tricky cadenzas Szymanowski cooked up with his friend, the virtuoso Pavel Kochanski.

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I have some doubts, though. The First Concerto, like Szymanowski’s songs of the period, is shot through with subtle orientalism, while the Second is soaked in Polish folk tradition. One waits in vain for those extremes – exotic delicacy, or real gut-raspiness. Instead of magic fireflies and quick flashes of lightning, you keep hearing John Williams-like themes bursting from the woodwork.

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Szymanowski, one suspects, would still prefer Rowicki’s rickety old Olympia recording with Wanda Wilkomirska. I would buy this disc for the relaxed Stravinsky concerto that precedes, with the Szymanowski as a bonus. The pairing is a good one; and if Stravinsky’s quirkiness gets lost, the Bach-like underlay doesn’t. It offers a cosy way into a still curiously little-known Stravinsky work. Roderic Dunnett