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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Violin Sonata in D minor, Op.9 (1904) [22:00]
Three Paganini Caprices, Op.40 (1918) [16:00]
Mythes, Op.30 (1915) [22:04]
Nocturne and Tarantella, Op.28 (1915) [12:07]
Romance in D major, Op.23 (1910) [6:26]
La Berceuse d’Aïtacho Enia, Op.52 (1925) [3:58]
Transcriptions by Pawel Kochanski
Bruno Monteiro (violin)
João Paulo Santos (piano)
rec. Igreja de Cartuxa, Caxias, Portugal, 22-25 September 2014
includes world premiere recordings
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94979 [110:41]

I was very much looking forward to hearing this set, as it could have fulfilled a useful service. It contains all of Szymanowski’s own violin music and transcriptions, as well as five transcriptions by his close friend Pawel Kochanski, one of the great Polish violinists. In the event, the performances by this Portugese duo are so horrible that towards the end of my listening, in the interests of my sanity I resorted to some discreet skipping – checking that a particular rendering was bad enough to ignore, before moving on.

Although João Paulo Santos is not a particularly sensitive pianist – and Szymanowski’s keyboard textures positively cry out for sensitivity – the main problem is the violin playing of Bruno Monteiro. Listening to him is like putting on one of those 1950s discs by the ageing Joseph Szigeti, but without the compensating musicality. He has a queasy, even wheezy vibrato which is most unpleasant to my ears; his intonation is often at fault in music where spot-on tuning is absolutely necessary; and he plays the occasional wrong note. The sad thing about this project is that Monteiro often shows that he has the right ideas, for instance in Szymanowski’s high-lying E-string passages. He just does not have the equipment or the refinement with which to realise them.

The very first piece on these discs, the early Violin Sonata, sets the trend. The players are stodgy in (i) and not always together, and violin intonation is not good enough. In (ii) they often give a thick, clumsy impression and in (iii) violin tuning is simply not up to the mark. In one or two of the more vigorous pieces here, such as the Dance from Harnasie or the Danse Sauvage, the duo seem to be hacking through the undergrowth rather than giving a performance. In Paganini’s Caprices Nos. 20, 21 and 24, for which Szymanowski provided accompaniments, Monteiro is out of his depth.

The production team are not free of responsibility, as there are one or two strange passages where the editing seems to have gone slightly awry. The track details are given only on the back inlay, where the printing makes them almost illegible to the naked eye. The one triumph is the booklet, which has extensive, helpful notes by Ana Carvalho, translated by Frederick Gifford. If you can find the 1995 Russian-made recordings by the distinguished Ukrainian violinist Oleh Krysa and his wife Tatiana Tchekina, you will enter a completely different world of Szymanowski interpretation (Triton 17 016): they offer just the Sonata, Nocturne and Tarantella, Mythes and Paganini Caprices. The excellent disc by Alina Ibragimova and Cédric Tiberghien has all of those, plus the Romance and Berceuse (Hyperion CDA67703). There are several fine recordings of the Mythes, among which the legendary 1980 version by Kaja Danczowska and Krystian Zimerman stands out (DG 477 5903).

Tully Potter

Previous review: Roy Westbrook


 




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