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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Violin Concerto No.1 Op.35 (1916) [26:09]
Violin Concerto No.2 Op.61 (1932-33) [22:13]
Nocturne and Tarantella Op.28 (1915) orch. Grzegorz Fitelberg [11:51]
Ilya Kaler (violin)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, September 2006
NAXOS 8.557981 [60:12]


On the evidence of this disc Kaler is one of the most distinguished of Szymanowski players. His technique is cast iron, his tonal purity remains intact even in the most vertiginous demands made upon it, and he has a sure and cogent view of the manifold architectural difficulties facing the intrepid interpreter. The concertos make very different – but equally complex – demands on the player as they do indeed of the conductor. Fortunately Kaler has Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic alongside. Together a compelling case is made for the concertos, one that easily surmounts questions of price bracket. This is first and foremost a formidably well-played and interpreted brace of performances. The fact that it comes at Naxos’s price makes it only that much more desirable.

In the First Concerto we can note straight away his well focused but yet still silken tone. He avoids tonal exaggeration and disparities between the G and the upper strings in those treacherous high wire acts that Szymanowski calls for.  His view is very slightly slower than some – Danczowska/Kord most obviously – but never sounds remotely drawn out. In fact articulation is one of the best features of the recording. So too is the recorded balance, where flute and clarinet are prominent without being unnaturally spotlit. The powerful orchestral argument – the wind chatter, the brass fanfares, the horn calls, the percussive drama – are all assuredly potent in the mixing brew.

Similar excellence attends to the Second Concerto. Tension is powerfully screwed up through sheerly musical means. The blistering bowing demands are met with accomplishment whilst orchestrally the defiant blasts are corralled by Wit with surety. The horns, once again, perform heroically but there’s also lissom and elegant playing to balance the more boisterous passages. In a performance as good as this one the natural heroism and drama of the writing emerges in waves.

There’s an interesting novelty in the shape of the Fitelberg orchestration of the familiar Nocturne and Tarantella. Fitelberg was of course a great champion of the composer but his work borders at points on the generic and even at one or two points worryingly close to a kind of proto-Western music.

That’s a small matter. This release now jumps to the head of the front-runner stakes alongside the Danczowska performances. Older traversals will obviously include Uminska and Oistrakh in No.1, and Wilkomirska in both concertos. But for those who want excellent sound, intelligently argued performances and instrumental finesse then this is a handsome bargain – at whatever price bracket.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 

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