SZYMANOWSKI Violin Concertos. Mythes
When it comes to recording Szymanowski’s violin concertos, given a first-rate soloist, orchestra and conductor, a decent hall, a sympathetic team of engineers and an all-round understanding of Szymanowski’s exotic sound world, the likely upshot is a differing slant on what we already know rather than an outright revelation. The First Concerto in particular is so crammed full of incident that surveying the best of available modern versions (Zehetmair, Danczowska, Zimmermann, Steinbacher, Tetzlaff and so on) is like viewing as many lithe athletes doing the same routines with subtle variation but equal expertise. Baiba Skride easily holds her own in such illustrious company, her tone silvery bright, her responses to Vasily Petrenko’s alert (but never spiky) accompaniment quick off the mark. The lyrical aspects of the work – and there are many – are conveyed with a winning sense of poetry: try track 2, Tempo comodo, where Skride’s tender inflections are matched by parallel levels of warmth from the orchestra. A notably rich-textured recording helps, though when the focus needs to hold the soloist near centre stage (as in part 3), the balance allows her due prominence. Frank Peter Zimmermann’s recording with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under Antoni Wit (Sony) has marginally more ambience but in part 4, where the violin all but becomes Salome’s sibling (you can almost see the veils fall), Skride’s sweet, sinewy playing has the edge. Both offer an exceptional reading of the cadenza.
The Szymanowski of the darker Second Concerto is no longer the carrier of delicate and decorative filigree, which was very much the province of the First. The first section forms the nucleus of the piece, while the scherzo is in the manner of a peasant dance. Szymanowski’s Second Violin Concerto takes folk music on board while fulfilling the role of symphony-concerto. Sample tr 8 (Allegramente) where the peasant-like dancing emphases make their full effect and Skride’s playing is at its most gutsy. Turn to Zimmermann and aside from hearing more of the side drum and enjoying a wider dynamic range, the acoustic is more open and the solo playing marginally more urbane.
Either coupling of the concertos would serve as a front-ranking library recommendation (as, in all honesty, would Thomas Zehetmair and Sir Simon Rattle on EMI) but makeweights will likely prove crucial. Sony offers a superb version of Britten’s Violin Concerto, whereas Orfeo completes its disc with the sisters Baiba and Lauma Skride in a winningly atmospheric reading of Szymanowski’s Three Myths for violin and piano, Op 30, the closing ‘Dryades et Pan’ being the highlight of the performance, Baiba Skride employing an extraordinarily wide range of tone colours and effects (whistling harmonics, groaning double-stops, etc). Memories of Kaja Danczowska and Krystian Zimerman (DG) aren’t entirely erased but the vivid playfulness of the Skride sisters has a compelling intensity all its own. Leaving couplings aside, on the critical front it’s very much a case of ‘even stevens’.