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If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Karol SZYMANOWSKI
(1882-1937)

Violin Concerto No. 1 (1916) [25:35]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ
(1890-1959)

Violin Concerto No. 2 H293 (1943) [27:25]
Béla BARTÓK
(1881-1945)

Two Portraits
(Idealistic; Distorted) op. 5 (1911) [11:54]
Jennifer Koh (violin)
Grant Park Orchestra/Carlos Kalmar
rec. Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Millennium Park, Chicago, 1-2 July 2004 (Szymanowski); 1-2 July 2005 (Martinů, Bartók) . DDD
ÇEDILLE CDR 90000 089
[65:15]


Çedille's products are invariably of very high quality. Design, documentation, audio and interpretative aspects are well handled. Their track record is enviable.
 
Over the years we have reviewed their Blackwood symphonies 1 and 5, the Joachim and Brahms violin concertos played by Rachel Barton Pine (a winner on all counts), Robert Kurka's splendid opera The Good Soldier Schweik (based on Jaroslav Hasek's satirical novel), an anthology of Kurka's orchestral music and the piano concerto of LaMontaine. All attest to a singularly non-conformist vision. It's perhaps a pity that for this issue it was not possible to include a recording premiere which would have marked this disc out with even greater individuality in a thronged marketplace.
 
Koh's adventurous taste in repertoire is to be applauded. In recent years she has played the Ligeti concerto, Corigliano's The Red Violin, Martinů's Double Concerto with Hogwood (the notes do not say which of his double concertos). She has also recorded the Menotti concerto for Chandos, the Nielsen for Kontrapunkt, the Klami for Bis and the Eshpai No. 4 for Albany.
 
The Szymanowski is a favourite of mine. Over the years the reference recordings for me have been Oistrakh and Sanderling on Melodiya, Haendel on Supraphon and Kulka on EMI Classics,. This one does not supplant those versions; it is good rather than outstanding. What it lacks, across its single movement structure, is that finale sense of wildness and spontaneity; a strangely controlled fluttering instability. Nevertheless there is much to enjoy. I loved the pointing of the dancing solo line by Koh (e.g. 13:12) and the searching recording lays bare every thread and stratum of the orchestra. Perhaps it is all slightly too analytical. Others may well prefer this approach. You must choose.
 
One unusual aspect was the way in which Koh at 17:40 onwards made me notice, for the first time, the parallels between this work and Saint-Saëns' Havanaise.
 
Then we come to the Martinů which is a work of nostalgia and dynamism. Again the reference albums are not displaced. The ideals, but with compromises in recording quality, are Josef Suk's disc including the Ančerl-conducted two Martinů violin concertos and the Rhapsody-Concerto. There’s also, in distressed sound, Louis Kaufman's recording from the late 1940s. The reading here is again a shade too cool. I felt the lack of a certain seething buoyancy although the nostalgic sentiment is put across well.
 
Koh and Kalmar are well and truly gripped by the Bartók piece which in its two movements - one almost ten minutes long; the other just over two - marks the composer's love affair with the violinist Steffi Geyer. The first, for violin and orchestra, was written in 1907-8 while the fires of passion and the hope of passion burnt on a high flame. The second, which is for orchestra alone, takes the love theme of the first Portrait and lays bitter waste to it.
 
The disc ends well indeed although it's a pity that they did not tackle the Bartók Violin Concerto No. 1 the first movement of which is identical to the first of the Two Portraits.
 
By the way Geyer seems to have been quite a flame. Another of her ‘moths’ was Othmar Schoeck (1886-1957) whose lovely lyrical violin concerto owes its existence to Schoeck's almost certainly unrequited love for the young violinist.
 
Ms Koh plays the ex-Grumiaux, ex-General Dupont Stradivari of 1727.
 
The supporting text for this disc is by Andrea Lamoreaux, music director of Chicago's classical music station WFMT-FM. It is clearly printed using a font of comfortable reading size.
 
The repertoire mix in the case of this Çedille disc shows a creative imagination. The design details are consonant with the repertoire.
 
Rob Barnett
 

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Comparative reviews on Musicweb
Szymanowski - Danczowska/CD Accord; Benedetti/DG
Martinů - Pospichal/Atre Nova

 



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