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Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Violin Concerto No.1, Op.35 (1916) [25:20]
Violin Concerto No.2 in A minor, Op.61 (1932-33) [20:19]
Mieczysław KARŁOWICZ (1876-1909)
Violin Concerto in A major, Op.8 (1902) [27:17]
Tasmin Little (violin)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner
rec. 2017, Watford Colosseum
Reviewed in stereo.

Finding the right coupling is part of the skill-set of the successful record label … and Chandos are certainly that. Credit to whoever came up with the idea of matching up the two Szymanowski concertos with the less common but increasingly recorded Karłowicz. The two composers were Polish although Karłowicz was of an earlier generation than Szymanowski. Dux came close when they placed the Karłowicz beside the First Szymanowski. Chandos are the first to gather in all three and in that sense disc-for-disc there is no competition. Different as they are, these three works chime well together.

The two Szymanowskis are indebted in different ways to the composer's friend, the violinist Paul Kochanski (1887-1934). The First is dedicated "À mon ami Paul Kochanski" while the solo part of the Second was written in collaboration with Kochanski and the published score carries the inscription "À la mémoire du Grand Musicien, mon cher et inoubliable Ami, Paul Kochanski".

Unusually the First Szymanowski is in five tracks - a welcome decision for those coming to close quarters with this enchanting work. Little is the master of the fine and juicy vibrato, all carefully under control yet lively. Her skills and identification with this score include her most impressive command of that dancing razor-sharp dance in tr. 4. One blemish - at least I think it's a blemish - is to be found on tr. 2 at 5:50 where there's a strange infinitesimally momentary 'chug' noise, quiet and quite distant and not repeated. This is a lush work with its occasional transient echoes of Saint-Saëns' Havanaise and Caprice Andalou (remember Kogan and Hoelscher in those pieces). Little, Gardner and the orchestra are very pleasingly recorded for maximum impact and no digital glare. This work is a superb contemporary, distanced in geography, of Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 recently excellently done by Matthew Trusler on Orchid Classics. The shorter Second Concerto, a late work, has denser textures and an unsophisticatedly dancing folksiness which are very well put across. These versions of the two concertos brim with character.

This disc complements Chandos's new generation of Szymanowski orchestral recordings which are also piloted by Edward Gardner (Symphonies 2/4, Symphonies 1/3, Stabat Mater/Harnasie). Tasmin Little has recorded the Violin Sonata for them in a mixed composer recital.

It is Chandos's first time with the Karłowicz concerto but not their first with the two Szymanowski violin concertos. In 1996 they issued them with the Concert Overture on CHAN 9496. The soloist there was Lydia Mordkovitch and she was joined by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Vassily Sinaisky. This was a Szymanowski match with their Sinaisky/BBCPO symphonies 2 and 4 on CHAN 9478. They never completed their 1990s Szymanowski venture although they did record the Symphony 3 and Stabat Mater with one of their "house conductors" of the time, Valery Polyansky, on CHAN9937.

Tasmin Little has recorded the Karłowicz before and not so long ago ... and then I checked and it was in 2004. Hyperion issued it with the Moszkowski Concerto as part of their Romantic Violin Concerto series. It's about same duration as her present Chandos reading. The Karłowicz carries a dedication "To Professor Stanislaw Barcewicz as a token of admiration and gratitude." In terms of the sound-picture the Karłowicz here feels a little more set back than the array adopted for the two Szymanowskis. It's also a noticeably more dense nineteenth century score with its first two movements reflecting the quintessence of Bruch and Tchaikovsky. The finale of this gloriously enjoyable work has a hop and skip in its step - Wieniawski may well have been an influence.

Quite apart from the Kennedy and Kaler versions there are splendid Polish versions of the Karłowicz from Wiłkomirska, Kulka (twice) and Danczowska but this Chandos is a very good, easy, accessible and generous full-price choice.

The disc is very well documented by Adrian Thomas - in English, German and French.

An irresistibly compiled, performed and recorded CD of three Polish violin concertos from the late-romantic and folk-impressionist eras.

Rob Barnett



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