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20th Century Polish Music for Violin & Piano
Karol SZYMANOWSKI
(1882-1937)
Violin sonata in D minor, op. 9 (1904) [19.17]
Grażyna BACEWICZ (1909-1969) Violin sonata no. 4 (1949) [16.55]
Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994) Partita for violin and piano (1984) [13.55]
Patrycja Piekutowska (violin)
Beata Bilińska (piano)
rec. May 2006, Studio S-1, Polish Radio, Warsaw. DDD.
DUX 0544 [50:49]
 


This is the second recording of Polish violin music on the DUX label to come my way within a month.
 
The Szymanowski sonata receives a commanding and involving performance. Both players are fully up to the significant technical demands made upon them, and together they show an impressive grasp of the magisterial sweep of the music. Around three minutes into the opening movement a more reflective episode appears and both players allow the change of mood fully to register. For the most part though the first movement radiates emotions and thoughts that have lofty ambitions. Even if the work was not well appreciated at its premiere in 1909 - the performers were Kochański and Artur Rubinstein - Szymanowski’s youthful work continues to pack a fair punch. The performance here certainly pulls out all the stops. 
 
The second movement, cast in A major, seems almost song-like as the violinist contours around above the piano accompaniment. A middle section calling for pizzicato playing on the violin varies the atmosphere, before the sinuous songline is resumed. Piekutowska and Bilińska cope well in grading their various passages, ensuring that much variety of expression finds its way into their playing. The third movement returns to more ambitious territory in terms of musical structure, being cast as a grand sonata. Frequent shifts in modulation account for much of the movement’s restless character, and this comes across freely in the playing.
 
Whereas Szymanowski forever remained heavily indebted to the violinist Paweł Kochański for advice about the instrument, Grażyna Bacewicz had the advantage of being a formidable violinist herself. The sonata proclaims confidence in the instrument, posing several significant challenges for the soloist. The piano part is scarcely less daunting. Constructed from four brief movements, they serve to contrast with one another. The first is initially a subdued Moderato, before a more declamatory and upbeat mood takes hold, only to find the earlier reflective mood returning at periodic intervals. The second movement derives its entire material from the four notes of a repeated arpeggio: E - A- G- E. An unearthly mood pervades the writing, as the music seems to lack direction before cutting off without warning. The third movement Scherzo is subtler, spikier, more light-hearted and altogether requiring quick-fire coordination between the parts. The finale, Con Passione, sobers the rhetoric significantly and a grand conclusion is secured. On my first hearing of the work, there seems no reason not to find Piekutowska and Bilińska highly recommendable advocates of this intricate compositional voice.
 
Lutosławski’s Partita for violin and piano was later re-scored by the composer for violin, orchestra and piano obbligato, and the work is better known in that form.  In the original scoring, the work exhibits rough edges and sparse textures that the performers should not try to disguise or detract from. Happily, Piekutowska and Bilińska do not attempt to take away from the fundamental fabric of the piece. From nervous openings they take the five movements through passages of relative freedom, though perhaps constrained a little by formalities, and quiet intensity, before returning once again to freedom before concluding with elements of disquiet to the fore.  The performance might not carry the impact of the later scoring, but it does allow the tight sinews of Lutosławski’s writing to be clearly heard.
 
I feel compelled to add that the recording level on this disc is rather higher than one often encounters. The Szymanowski sonata begins with an imposing flourish for both players. Should one listen to the disc first through headphones or even through loudspeakers with the volume up slightly, as I did, the sheer force of the opening movement is likely to startle. One soon adjusts to the level, but I found it more comfortable overall to stop the disc, reduce the volume and start again from the beginning.
 
Overall, an interesting trio of works in recommendable performances, supported by lucid and informative documentation.
 
Evan Dickerson
 

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