Recorded on 03/23/2009, uploaded on 03/23/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
"10/10 - Koh offers three works for violin and orchestra by three
very different Eastern European composers, none of them over-exposed
and all of them distinctive. In other words, the complete program is as
coherent and well thought-out as the performances are outstanding." -
"Jennifer Koh is a risk-taking, high-octane player of the kind who
grabs the listener by the ears and refuses to let go. . . . A scorching
talent that should on no account be missed." - The Strad
"[Carlos] Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra perform . . . with exuberance, commitment and edge." - The New York Times
... The works of Karol
Szymanowski (1882-1937) took some time to achieve their rightful place in music
history, and remain relatively unfamiliar in the United States. But they amply
reward those willing to open their ears to a truly unique style, forged from
eclectic infl uences into a poignant and highly individual sound.
Like so many artists
who emerged into adulthood around the turn of the 20th century, Szymanowski
lived through the shattering of the old world order precipitated by World War I
- an event that changed far more than national boundaries and the names of
rulers. Old ways of living and thinking were destroyed; fortunes were lost;
time-honored traditions were ridiculed and forgotten. Raised in a secure
atmosphere of aristocratic privilege, enriched by his parents' love for
literature and music, the talented young pianist-composer grew up without the
expectation of having to earn a living. His family's estate was near Kiev in
the Ukraine, but his family maintained strong ties to its roots in Poland.
Home-schooled in both academics and music, Szymanowski moved to Warsaw in 1901
for studies at the conservatory. He soon joined other students in a movement
that became known as Young Poland, which hoped to encourage more progressive,
less provincial attitudes in the city's musical establishment, and to fi nd opportunities
for the performance of their own compositions.
Young Poland included
the violinist Pawel Kochanski, who became Szymanowski's lifelong friend, and a
promising pianist named Artur Rubinstein. Young Poland concerts were given in
both Warsaw and Berlin in 1906; Szymanowski's Concert Overture and Variations
on a Polish Folk Theme drew favorable critical attention. New experiences now
beckoned. Like other young men of means, he devoted his next few years largely
to travel, visiting Berlin, Vienna, Paris, numerous Italian cities, Sicily, and
North Africa. Eagerly opening his mind, spirit, and ears to these new
environments, he absorbed infl uences including German late Romanticism, the
works of Debussy and Ravel, Arab poetry and, most especially, the mix of
ancient and medieval cultures he found in Sicily.
important stage work, the opera King Roger, was premiered in Warsaw in
1926. Set in medieval Sicily, it vividly portrays a conflict between the
conventional, ordered world of the Christian church and royal court that held
sway in the Middle Ages and an older and perhaps freer system, harking back to
the traditions of classical Greece. This older world is represented in the
opera by a mysterious, charismatic figure called the Shepherd. King Roger
reveals a great deal about Szymanowski, both intellectually and emotionally.
Beyond the enthusiastic medievalism common to Romantic-era artists, it refl
ects the philosophical conflict often described as Apollonian vs. Dionysian:
the light of reason contrasted with the "darker" impulses of the human psyche.
In terms of Szymanowski's own psyche, the opera conveys a large measure of
sexual ambivalence. King Roger has a Queen but is also strongly
attracted to the Shepherd: whether in physical or in spiritual terms is left
unclear. Seen through contemporary eyes, King Roger expresses the anguish of a
homosexual man trapped and repressed by the heterosexual hegemony of his time.
King Roger was several years in the future when
Szymanowski returned to his parents' home in 1914 to wait out the war and
grapple with the myriad stylistic influences that affected his development as
both a writer and a composer. As a Polish national, he was exempt from being
drafted into the Russian army (Ukraine was then part of Russia) and would in
any case have been disqualified for frail health: he suffered from the effects
of a childhood injury, depression, and above all tuberculosis. His output
during the war included an unfinished novel, his Symphony No. 3, Myths for
violin and piano, Metopes for solo piano, songs on exotic themes from Arabian
poetry, and the Violin Concerto No. 1, dedicated to his friend Kochanski, who
contributed the virtuosic cadenza.
family was forced off its estate in 1919, in the wake of the Bolshevik
Revolution. The composer eventually settled in Warsaw and added yet another
thread to the complex weave of his stylistic identity - that of the
newly-resurgent Polish nationalist movement. He stayed in contact with
Kochanski and Rubinstein during visits to Paris and the U.S., but increasingly
spent time at a resort in Poland's Tatra Mountains. Polish nationalism
influenced a number of his late works, including a set of mazurkas, the ballet Hanarsie,
the String Quartet No. 2, and his choral masterpiece, Stabat Mater.
Now middle-aged and
needing to earn money, Szymanowski embarked on a brief tenure as head of the
Warsaw Conservatory, but found himself unhappy in an academic setting and
artistically at odds with the faculty (though not with the students). He also
undertook a career as a concert pianist despite his modest keyboard talents.
Syzmanowski gained fame and respect in the 1930s through international
performances of his compositions, but the eff ects of tuberculosis precluded
further creative activity. He died in a Swiss sanatorium at the age of 54.
The Violin Concerto
No. 1 represents a kind of early midpoint of Szymanowski's continually-evolving
style. A large, late-Romantic orchestra, augmented by piano and harps, supports
and enhances an exuberant, rhapsodic solo part that tells us much about the
virtuosity of the dedicatee, Pawel Kochanski. Three sections, the fi rst two
both marked Vivace, are performed without pause. The third is simply labeled
Cadenza. The structure of the work is essentially that of a gigantic rondo,
with a lyrical main theme transformed at each re-introduction between episodes
of greater agitation, sometimes shared by the orchestra and soloist, sometimes
presented in dialogue.
The large orchestra is
not employed as a monolithic sound source. While there are many "tutti"
passages, Syzmanowksi just as often spotlights an individual section - winds,
horns, low strings - in the ongoing interchanges. Gustav Mahler famously broke
up his huge orchestral forces into chamber-sized groupings; Szymanowski uses
the same technique. Mahler, of course, never wrote a violin concerto. At times,
it almost seems as if Szymanowski has done it for him. The infl uence of the
late-Romantic music of Mahler and Richard Strauss is obvious, but in the end
the work doesn't sound like them: it sounds like Szymanowski.
Out of a frenetic
orchestral opening gently emerges the first violin solo, calming and subtly
dominating the texture. This sequence happens twice more, as the orchestra
re-asserts itself and the soloist's lyrical lines grow seemingly inevitably out
of the surrounding agitation. These early violin solos establish both the main
theme and the high range in which the soloist will play throughout most of the
climaxes, now majestic, now frenzied, separate the passages where the soloist
reiterates and elaborates the main theme - which is presented at times in
clear, diatonic, tonal fashion and at other times with more dissonant colors.
The violin plays double-stops and dramatic running figurations up and down its
full range, though the higher ranges are always the most prominent, reaching up
to the instrument's highest notes, imparting an intense sense of yearning.
Leading up to the final section, the violin restates its main theme, which the
orchestra takes up briefly, but then stops abruptly as the soloist begins
Kochanski's cadenza, a brilliant collection of runs, chords, and octaves that
brings the emotion of the piece to a climax. The orchestra responds with a
full-strength coda that leads the violin on to one more triumphant statement of
the main theme, soaring over an accompaniment that becomes gentle and
restrained, presaging a sly, quiet ending.
is music director of WFMT-FM, Chicago's classical-music station.
To purchase the CD or download this performance, click here.
Cedille Records is the recording label of The Chicago Classical Recording Foundation, a publicly-supported, not-for-profit, organization devoted to promoting the finest musicians, ensembles, and composers in the Chicago area by producing and releasing their efforts on audiophile-quality recordings. The recordings and their promotion are designed to stimulate interest in these performers and composers and bring their artistry to a wider audience. Cedille Records is also dedicated to promoting interest in neglected areas of the classical repertory by presenting masterpieces that have been overlooked by other recording companies.
I saw Jennifer not too along ago - playing Tchaikovsky rather well. This one is nice!
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