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Works for Violin and Piano
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)

Violin Sonata in D Minor, Op.9 (1904)
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

Suite for Violin and Piano, Op.6 (1934)
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

Violin Sonata No.3 in C Minor, Op.45 (1887)
Rafal Zambrzycki-Payne (violin)
Carole Presland (piano)
Recorded April, 1997, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London


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As with other releases in the excellent EMI Debut series, a lot of thought has gone into the programming on this disc. These may look like a disparate bunch of composers (as indeed they are), but not only does this make for stimulating (and contrasting) listening, one is also made aware of differing responses either side of 1900 to the once popular, intimate medium of violin and piano. We go from the height of folk-inspired Romanticism, through a more heady exoticism and on to cleaner, more acerbic textures, though not in this order!

In fact, if one plays the disc straight through, the Britten Suite is obviously there as a refreshing foil to the ‘meatier’ (and more closely related) pieces. This works well, and though 58 minutes is considered rather short measure these days (various candidates for a filler came to mind, from all three composers), the quality of the performances ensures that one does not feel short-changed.

The Szymanowski D Minor Sonata is a relatively early work, and makes an ideal opening item. The big, rhetorical flourish that begins the piece gives a good indication of the sort of stylistic world we are going to encounter. As Jeremy Siepmann’s short but informative note tells us, the influence of Brahms and Franck is apparent (this gives it a link to the Grieg); one is also aware of another, more deeply felt influence, that of Chopin. This is quite obvious in the finale, and although the Sonata is laid out in a perfectly traditional form, the odd spicy harmony and hint of mazurka (especially in the little scherzando episode of the song-like slow movement) show us thumbprints of a more adventurous composer to come.

The Britten may sound worlds away, but it is showing us another great composer’s voice emerging from a youthful piece (Szymanowski was 22, Britten 21). What makes this piece extra interesting is the hint of Second Viennese procedures. Britten was a lifelong admirer of Berg, and this Suite was partly composed during a visit to Vienna in 1934. The most obvious hint is the use of an angular four-note motto (E-F-B-C) at the very start. This motto is stabbed out piercingly by the violin, and then proceeds to tie all the material together, the differing permutations showing that Britten was well aware of the serial note-row method. That said, there is nothing remotely severe in the music, which immediately goes off into typically Brittenesque territory – the short movements are made up of march, lullaby, moto perpetuo and, most wittily and characteristically, a delicious waltz to finish.

The third, and last of Grieg’s Violin Sonatas makes a fittingly grand finale to the disc. There is also the stiffest recorded competition here, with notable versions from Augustin Dumay (with Maria João Pires) on DG, and the Mordkovich sisters on Chandos. However, these are groupings of all three sonatas, so are unlikely to be a real problem for this recital. The Third Sonata comes from the last decade of Grieg’s life, and is a suitable example of all that is best about the composer – intense lyricism, tight but flexible structure and, most of all, a boldness and sweep that have made it the most popular of the three. Tunes there are a-plenty, but no hint of sentimentality, especially in the superbly direct, refreshing performance here. Throughout the disc, Rafal Zambrzycki-Payne displays a big tone, excellent technique and a probing musicianship, and the partnering from the experienced Carole Presland is all one could want, with bravura and subtle understatement in equal measure.

This disc was recorded back in 1997, so one can only presume contractual reasons for the delayed release. Like many other Debut discs, it is a real winner, imaginative planning allied to excellent playing and recording – all at budget price.

Tony Haywood

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