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Szymanowski: Violin Concertos - Little / Gardner

Szymanowski: Violin Concertos - Little / Gardner

Chandos  CHSA 5185

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Szymanowski: Violin Concertos 1 & 2
Karłowicz: Violin Concerto

Tasmin Little (violin)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Edward Gardner (conductor)


This SACD recording brings together some of Chandos greatest artists in a spellbinding programme. It follows performances that The Guardian described as a thrilling show of ferocity and feistiness, given by the same forces in January at the Barbican. After widely acclaimed recordings of Walton's and Lutosławski's violin concertos, Tasmin Little again joins the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner, in intensely expressive interpretations of the concertos by the Polish composers Karłowicz and Szymanowski.

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Review by John Broggio - August 18, 2017

Quite simply outstanding.

In the first Szymanowski concerto, there is already what amounts to an embarrassment of riches (in release order):The Pearls of Polish Music - Szymanowski, Dvorak, Szymanowski: Violin Concertos - Steinbacher, Janowski & Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 1, Myths, Chant de Roxane - Philippens, Quentin, Zhang. This is the first recording on hi-res media of the second concerto and the second for the Karlowicz (The Pearls of Polish Music - Szymanowski). In modern, not hi-res recordings, the partnership of Thomas Zehetmair and Sir Simon Rattle stand out as high points in the Szymanowski discography; wonderful though these accounts are it is such a shame that recordings such as these are hamstrung by comparatively mediocre technology.

In Szymanowski's first concerto, Tasmin Little with sensitive and dramatic accompaniment from the BBC SO and Edward Gardner ably join the accounts above. The publicity states that the recording was made following live performances; this is readily believable because of the sense of electricity and spontaneity that inhabits every bar. Like the Pentatone account the recording is sensational, allowing the ear to marvel at the astonishing sonorities that Szymanowski conjures, which are vividly yet subtly brought to life by the inspired BBC SO under Gardner's baton. In the reflective music, Little spins a golden thread that is jaw-droppingly beautiful. In the faster music, although ever so slightly slower than some, this affords Little the chance to characterise more imaginatively which calls to mind the adage of "more haste, less speed". The dynamic range here is astonishing from the merest flutterings at the opening and closing of this magical work to towering climaxes that, thanks to Szymanowski's & Gardner's skill in handling the orchestral forces, Little can shine through radiantly.

Szymanowski's second concerto is somewhat more compact in length and is, like the first, an unbroken span of music. Unlike the first concerto, the second is (the final ecstatic bars apart) more severe than the first concerto and less expansively scored. Style apart, Little, Gardner & the BBC SO play this with complete conviction and such freedom that one can only marvel at the musicianship. Unlike many concerto recordings where one is conscious of the soloist "laying down the law" and everyone else having to play follow the leader; here it is clear that there is a real meeting of minds with Little, orchestral members and Gardner alike. There are magical moments here (and elsewhere), where you can "hear" Little & Gardner listening to woodwind soloists and "replying" in kind and the closing pages are electrifying.

Karlowicz's concerto is not nearly known as much as it should be; the advocacy from these artists should help right this imbalance! Much more conventional in terms of the roles played between soloist & orchestra in the Romantic repertoire, to their credit everyone here is attentive to each other as they were in the Szymanowski. Another constant is Little's easy virtuosity that never seeks to draw attention to itself, even in the most taxing passagework. Likewise, the rhapsodic longer line in more reflective music is heard from Little & the BBC SO equally. Tasmin Little has recorded this earlier with Hyperion and the BBC Scottish SO under Martyn Brabbins; good though that account is, it cannot hope to compete with the lavish sonic picture offered here. As with the Szymanowski, the BBC SO are audibly relishing this collaboration and sound completely in tune with the repertoire.

There are excellent notes to set the context of the time in which these works were composed, the relationship between the two composers and for each work; they are brief but informative and free from padding. The Szymanowski concertos in particular cry out for a wonderful sonic patina (and this would obviously benefit the Karlowicz): Chandos deliver this in spades. The Watford Colosseum, as captured here, provides a perfect balance between clarity and richness of sonority which is combined with a thrillingly wide dynamic range.

Very highly recommended. If this recording is not in the running for my disc of the year, it will be a very pleasant surprise!

Copyright © 2017 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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