Hartmann/Szymanowski Violin Concertos

Author: 
Stephen Johnson

Hartmann/Szymanowski Violin Concertos

  • Concerto funèbre
  • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1

It was the invasion of Szymanowski's native Poland that prompted Karl Amadeus Hartmann—no Nazi sympathizer—to write his Concerto funebre for violin and strings. The note of protest is evident, though the work completely avoids rant or melodrama. Bartok and Hindemith are the most obvious influences (hints of Hartmann's teacher Webern are rare) but they're completely digested, and the outer chorale-based movements have an expressive power that I've never found in Hartmann's music before. Christine Edinger plays it all with evident feeling, as do the Kattowice Radio Symphony strings, and a suitably ominous mood is soon established. Technically the violin part poses her no serious problems—though the dotted rise to an exposed harmonic never sounds quite fluent. Perhaps the Allegro could be made to sound more purposeful: until I hear another performance or see a score I can only guess.
So the disc is worth hearing for the Hartmann. For the Szymanowski? Alas no. The performance starts well enough, but lyrical passages, solo or orchestral, are pulled way out of shape by unsubtle rubatos, huge inorganic rallentandos and by a general gooey over-indulgence. Edinger plays with great intensity, but over-projection often leads to tonal crudity. Some of the faster sections have a drive and rawness that temporarily draw one closer, but so many moments are soured or simply thrown away—like the wonderful double-stopped crescendo molto before the first big climax (fig. 21). My feelings about David Oistrakh's recording (Le Chant du Monde/Harmonia Mundi) haven't changed, though after Edinger his austerity is certainly forgivable—at least his performance has dramatic conviction. Fortunately Wanda Wilkomirska's passionate, voluptuous and gripping performance has reappeared in a fully acceptable transfer (Polskie Nagrania/Target)—still the classic reading.'

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