SZYMANOWSKI; KARŁOWICZ Violin Concertos
Three violin concertos – all Polish but all very different in mood – make up this latest release from Tasmin Little. Programmed last on the disc, but composed first, is the concerto by Mieczysaw Karłowicz, a big, romantic concerto very much in the mould of Tchaikovsky. The opening horn motif even echoes that of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, albeit in reverse.
Little has recorded the Karłowicz before (wonderfully) in 2003 as part of Hyperion’s Romantic Violin Concerto series. Her playing is just as strong here, with meaty staccato double-stopped passages, but it’s not all show; she is sensitive to dynamics too. Nigel Kennedy is more self-indulgent in his recording, although the earthiness and drama he brings to it is compelling. Tasmin Little trills exquisitely in the stratosphere to close the second movement, while the finale dances joyously. The BBC Symphony Orchestra, under the astute direction of Edward Gardner, offer keen support, particularly some lovely woodwind flecks of colour to the yearning Romanza slow movement. Chandos’s recording, in a reverberant acoustic, is much beefier than Hyperion’s, which is not always an advantage in orchestral climaxes.
Karłowicz died young, caught in an avalanche in the Tatra Mountains in 1909, the same mountains where Karol Szymanowski and his muse, the Polish violinist Pawe Kochański, spent the summer in 1932. It was there that Szymanowski sketched the initial ideas for his Second Violin Concerto. I heard Little and Gardner make a great case for this work at the Barbican earlier this year, presumably at the time of the Chandos recording sessions. Little really digs into the folk-like first movement, almost Bartókian in its fiddles and drones, with its fierce double-stopping and muscular cadenza – written by Kochański – coming off splendidly. Kochański had also been the inspiration for the First, highly perfumed and exotic in feel, composed at a time when Szymanowski was heavily influenced by Arabic culture. Little’s lustrous tone and ethereal top notes are bathed in an orchestral accompaniment that glitters and glistens, while there is fire and ice in the brief cadenza that opens the final section of the work. Her Szymanowksi is as fine as Thomas Zehetmair’s, long the benchmark recording of these two concertos; but, with the Karłowicz thrown in, this makes a highly recommendable alternative.