Szymanowski Orchestral Works
They make an admirable coupling, the two Szymanowski violin concertos, but a demanding one for the soloist. They are both so beautiful that it must be tempting to embellish both with a similarly glowing tone. But they inhabit quite different worlds (they were written 16 years apart) and Zehetmair shows how well they respond to quite different approaches. In the First, after a rapt solo entry, he uses for the most part a lovely but delicate tone, expanding to athletic incisiveness but not often to lushness. It fits very well with Rattle’s handling of the orchestra: occasionally full and rich (an especially sumptuous tutti towards the end) but mostly a sequence of exquisitely balanced chamber ensembles. Generous but finely controlled rubato from both soloist and conductor allows the concerto’s improvisatory fantasy to flower; and the quiet close even has a touch of wit to it.
Zehetmair’s sound is immediately less ethereal, more robust, for the opening melody of the Second Concerto. This is the sort of tone, you suspect, that he would use in Bartok’s Second Concerto, and it points up a vein of indeed Bartokian strength to this work’s longer and firmer lines. Rattle, too, seeks out bolder and more dense colours. It is characteristic that even the more musing lyrical pages here are given a warmer colour than superficially similar moments in the First Concerto; characteristic, too, that Zehetmair should find poetry as well as brilliance in Pawel Kochanski’s long cadenza.
The Paganini Caprices were equipped by Szymanowski not with deferential accompaniments but with independent and quite freely composed piano parts. They change Paganini, even where the violin part is unmodified (most of the time but not quite all), into a late romantic virtuoso, with a hint of Lisztian poetry alongside the expertly pointed-up fireworks of the Twenty-Fourth Caprice; even here Zehetmair is a listening violinist, not one to upstage his excellent pianist. The Romance, the warmest and most luscious piece here, is beautifully done but with a touch of restraint to prevent it cloying. A first-class coupling, in short, and a recording (of the two concertos) that makes the most of the superb acoustic of Symphony Hall in Birmingham.'