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The Polish Violin
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
Mythes, Op.30 [23:22]
Nocturne and Tarantella, Op.28 [11:15]
Chant de Roxane [5:31]
Romance, Op.23 [6:50]
Morita MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Guitarre, Op.45 No.2 [4:05]
Mieczysław KARŁOWICZ (1876-1909)
Impromptu [8:46]
Henryk WIENIAWSKI (1835-1880)
Légende, Op.17 [8:09]
Polonaise de concert, Op.4 [6:24]
Jennifer Pike (violin), Petr Limonov (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Dunwich, UK, 2018
CHANDOS CHAN20082 [75:16]

We are thrust immediately into a world of exotic mysticism with Szymanowski’s Mythes of 1915. Expansive, wave-like piano figurations from Petr Limonov set the scene as Jennifer Pike enters from way up high and together the two journey through an astonishingly full and varied sound world. From vast horizons to tiny, intimate reflections, the music goes into realms rarely to be found in duo compositions. Yet these two players are well equipped technically, musically and intellectually not just to meet its demands, but also to convey much of the visionary imagination which inhabits this substantial three-movement work. The first movement – “Fountain of Arethusa” – is far more than just the sparkling cascades of water; it evokes here the turbulence of fear and passion as one of the “daughters of the night” is overtaken and absorbed by the flowing waters of the river god, Alpheus. As for the second movement – “Narcisse” – it is the violin which gazes lovingly on its own reflection in the deep and sometimes disturbing waters of the piano accompaniment. As Adrian Thomas points out in his booklet notes, “Narcissus’s gaze is explored in a sequence of episodes” which take us into a music world full of self-reflection and deep contentment. The third movement is more obviously depictive of “Dryads and Pan”, and puts a lot of the descriptive weight on to the violin, which conveys the wood nymphs in a series of fluttering quarter-tones and trilling whole tones. At one point the violin represents through a cadenza using almost entirely harmonics, the flute of pan, and in all this Jennifer Pike proves to be a brilliant exponent, lavish in her virtuosity yet sparing in her outward display; here is a performer who clearly understands the significance of every note and brings it all very much to life.

Former BBC Young Musician of the Year and a rare example of a violinist to whom the label prodigy can genuinely be applied, Jennifer Pike has matured into not just a perceptive musician and brilliant violinist, but also a performer with that elusive gift of being able to communicate not just the dots and squiggles on the page, but to reach right into the heart of the music she plays. Her tone and wonderful sense of line helps, but the overriding impression from this disc is of someone who not only plays the music, but sincerely understand sit too. And in Petr Limonov she seems to have found the ideal duo partner; he follows her every contour and nuance.

The repertory of violin music by Polish composers is huge and varied. Beyond the Impressionistic mysticism of the Szymanowski, we have the jovial bit of pseudo-Spanish kitsch in Moszkowski’s Guitarre, elevated here beyond its usual feel of mock-strumming and sultry melodies into something which seems to have a real inner core. Pike’s pyrotechnics and glittering arpeggiando gestures are as flamboyant as anyone’s, but I am more taken here by the wonderful sense of shape and substance she gives to Moszkowski’s often expansive melodic phrases.

Mieczysław Karłowicz’s Impromptu calls to mind in its musical language the music of Chopin, not least in the juxtaposition of glittering technical display and inner sentimentality, which Pike ensures never becomes cloying. She treads a path through the piece which is beautifully light-footed and airy, integrating the moments of display with the moments of pathos to perfection. I particularly like the conversational feel between piano and violin, but my heart stops as Pike ascends through the cadenza to stratospheric heights without any loss of tone or focus.

Possibly the best-known pieces here are the two by Wieniawski, another genuine violin prodigy and probably Poland’s most famous violinist. Passion and display are the hallmarks of his writing, and both get full measure in these superb performances. But perhaps the most endearing thing about this performance of the ubiquitous Légende is the wonderfully relaxed and leisurely feel to the opening; it’s as if Pike is deliberately holding back on the moment when this turns to something altogether more extrovert. But if it’s extrovertness you want, as the ideal finisher, the performance of the Polonaise is as boisterous and extrovert as anybody could wish for.

Marc Rochester

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