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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Violin Concerto No. 1 Op. 35 (1916) [24.00]
Violin Concerto No. 2 Op. 61 (1933) [20.23]
Concert Overture in E minor Op. 12 (1913) [11.33]
Kaja Danczowska (violin)
National Philharmonic Orchestra, Warsaw/Kazimierz Kord
rec. Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall, 19-21 Feb 1996 (Opp. 35, 61), 12 June 1996 (Op. 12). DDD
CD ACCORD ACD 026-2 [56.22]

Szymanowski's Concert Overture was pretty much unknown until the young Simon Rattle revived it in Birmingham during his early glory days. Now it has had several recordings. It is an exuberant, unblushingly Straussian piece with its lineage directed to Don Juan. You can also think of it as a shorter echo of Elgar's Alassio. The thematic material is thinner than we are accustomed to from this composer. It is rather a high calorie piece of confectionery - melodically all too easily forgettable though fun to hear. This version can be compared with Botsteinís Telarc recording (CD-80567) CD-80567. I first heard the piece in a radio broadcast of a toweringly orgasmic performance conducted by Edward Downes in 1981. Under Kasprzyk on CDM 5 65082 2 the overture thundered and glowed in a recording that was just as good at the triple forte climaxes as the silvery pianissimos. The Telarc sound was harder and far less immediate and subtle than the late analogue EMI. Kord takes it with exultant speed: 11.44 as against Kasprzyk: 13.14 and Botstein 13.34.

The two violin concertos have been recorded quite a few times though versions are by no means numerous. Ida Haendel (Chandos), Chantal Juillet (Decca), Konstanty Kulka (EMI and Naxos) and Wanda Wilkomirska have done both. Szeryng made a well respected recording of the Second Concerto. I recall an Aurora LP (AUR5063 c.1978) in which Wilkomirska's first recording of No. 1 was coupled with Charles Treger's version of No. 2. Danczowska is steadier-toned than Haendel and Kulka. She is closer in sound and approach to Wilkomirska and Juillet.

Danczowska has impressive Szymanowski credentials having recorded the Mythes as a début disc with DG. This was lauded to the skies and she brings to this 1997 project the same compelling qualities - steady tone even in the most voluptuously luxuriant of writing, rapturous powers of concentration and the ability to punch through glimmering Firebird-upholstered textures to achieve piercing audibility. Further back in time the First Concerto can trace its bloodline back to Saint-Saens' Havanaise. This is a 'Song of the Night' in all but name and one can easily link this work with the Third Symphony which itself is based on Mid-Eastern texts. Parallel works include the Delius Violin Concerto.

The Second Concerto, like the first, owed much to the composerís friend Pavel Kochanski who, but for his mortal illness, would have performed it. Even if he was too ill to premiere it the piece is dedicated to his memory. CD Accordís excellent recording quality helps greatly here. Szymanowski in this work had moved his language towards nationalism rather than the Scriabin-indebted ecstasy of the First Concerto or the Jugendstil exuberance of the Overture. The connection is evidenced by the Harnasie-style climax at 8.28. Not even in Szeryng's hands has the flaming intensity of song that crowns the concerto at 18.10 been projected with such overwhelming force.

The recording is extremely good. Think in terms of Decca's best. Detailing is clarity itself. The recording has plenty of heft.

These Danczowska versions of the concertos are enthusiastically recommended - superior interpretations stunningly recorded and coupled with the best setting down of the windy Concert Overture even allowing for Botstein and Kasprzyk.

Rob Barnett

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