Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Outstanding music for violin & orchestra from Poland


I'm a CD-half full kind of guy when it comes to unfamiliar repertoire on disc, but I wasn't expecting such a positive listening experience when I had my first listen to this fine release from Naxos. There are four very solid works for violin and orchestra here, each one full of energy and grace, and all played beautifully by violinist Piotr Plawner, with strong support from the Kammersymphonie Berlin under Jurgen Bruns.  I've recently become quite a fan of one of the composers here, Grażyna Bacewicz. I highly recommend the recent two-disc set of her Complete String Quartets with the Silesian Quartet, which I reviewed last month. Bacewicz was a concert violinist as well as a composer, and her First Violin Concerto, written in 1937, is the first of 7 she wrote to show off her skills in both domains. There is absolutely no empty virtuosity here, though; this is brilliant music, largely in a neo-classical style, but there are also some hints of a more serious and passionate music that she would explore later in the series. I look forward to hearing the other six, and from a quick look at reviews, it seems like Joanna Kurkowicz's series on Chandos might be the place to start.

Alexandre Tansman's Five Pieces, a kind of updated Baroque suite, were written for Joseph Szigetti in 1930. It all sounds quite French to my ears, though there's more of Ravel and Les Six here than Rameau or Couperin. Michal Spisak's Andante and Allegro from 1954 is another work that seems to come from half-way between Paris and Warsaw; it was written for his teacher Nadia Boulanger. He referred to it as "a little story for violin and orchestra." The Andante has the declamatory feel of a recitative, sounding at times a bit pompous. This music is infused with a quite subtle irony, quite unlike the often heavier-handed version of Shostakovich, which often veers into sarcasm. Spisak's Allegro is full of incident, after that fine set-up, with a hustle and bustle beginning that suddenly opens up into a graceful Watteau-like landscape, returning for an energetic, and quite amusing, ending.

The disc comes to a serious, even spiritual, close with Anderzej Panuknik's 1971 Violin Concerto, written for Yehudi Menuhin. Alternating between sober and energetically manic moods, this marvellous work is suffused with melancholy, even when the folk rhythms of Polish dances are evoked in the Vivace finale.

Four works of completely different character, but together a triumph for everyone involved!

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