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CD Review

Karol Szymanowski

Works for Violin & Piano

  • Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 9
  • Dance from "Harnasie"
  • Roxana's Song from the Opera "King Roger"
  • Romance in D major, Op. 23
  • Paganini Caprices (3), Op. 40
  • Nocturne & Tarantella, Op. 28
  • Mythes, Op. 30
  • Kurpian Song, Op. 58 #9
  • La Berceuse d'Aïtacho Enia, Op. 52 (1925)
  • L'Aube
  • Danse Sauvage (Wild Dance)
Bruno Monteiro, violin
João Paulo Santos, piano
Brilliant Classics 94979 2CDs
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Every release from Bruno Monteiro and João Paulo Santos confirms them as a tremendously adventurous and musical partnership. Now that they can be found on labels like Naxos and Brilliant Classics, I hope the two will gain more exposure. While they have focused on a mix of neglected Romantic repertoire and Portuguese masterpieces in previous projects, I believe this release to be their most important yet, a masterful survey of Karol Szymanowski and his complete works for violin and piano.

The 1904 Sonata is the largest and earliest work in the collection, predating everything else by at least six years. The pair already recorded the Op. 9 Sonata on Numérica (NUM1173), and I had high praise for that account. I think this version shows a maturation of approach; the music is a hair less driven, a hair more introspective. I also find Monteiro to posses a warmer and fuller tone than I remember. Whether this is from the engineering or from his growth as an artist, I can't be sure. At any rate, my initial impressions of the Op. 9 as a "masterpiece of the medium" are confidently upheld. Since the Numérica disc is near-impossible to acquire, this equally masterful rendition will be my version of choice.

The rest of the set is devoted to shorter pieces. Each of the dances and songs peppered throughout prove bewitching, especially "Roxana's Song" from 1931, followed by the Dance from "Harnasie" from the same year. Directly following the Sonata, you can hear the various moods Szymanowski was able to conjure within his music. And the Paganini Caprices are a fascinating centennial tribute to the Italian virtuoso, effortlessly blending the styles of both men and ending disc one on a decided high note.

Disc two's main attraction is the Op. 30 Mythes. Beginning with some highly evocative piano writing, the violin enters with soaring and almost dreamy responses. I've written at length on how João Paulo Santos is no mere accompanist, and he proves himself fully capable of tackling the three difficult movements of the work. Bruno Monteiro has just the right tone for this music, as he vividly paints these mythological stories for us. During this time, the liner notes remind us of his contact with Debussy and Ravel, though there is no sense of cheap imitation despite the undeniable influences. Following some more well-crafted dances and songs, the second half of the program is concluded by the Nocturne and Tarantella, Op. 28. Composed around the same time as the Mythes (the rest of disc two is almost exclusively devoted to pieces a decade later) the two-part work closes the disc with both tranquility and virtuosity. Brilliant Classics has been a little preoccupied with Baroque releases and obscure new music, but here at least is a project of real importance and wide musical appeal.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman