New Recording of Szymanowski’s Violin-Piano Works


SZYMANOWSKI: Violin Sonata in D min. Études, Op. 4. Romance in D. Métopes, 3 Poems for Piano. Nocturne & Tarantella for Violin & Piano. Myths. Masques. “Roxana’s Song” from King Roger. 4 Polish Dances: Oberek. Harnasie: “Bauerntanz.” 20 Mazurkas. 2 Mazurkas. SZYMANOWSKI-KOCHÁNSKI: “L’Aube” (Dawn); “Danse Sauvage” (Savage Dance) / Matthew Bengtson, pianist; Blanka Bednarz, violinist / Musica Omnia MO0703

This fascinating collection gathers the majority of Szymanowski’s music for violin and piano, together or separately. The stars of the show are young pianist Matthew Bengtson, whose set of the Scriabin Piano Sonatas I gave a good review to in Fanfare several years ago, and violinist Blanka Bednarz.

What I discovered immediately upon listening to the opening selection, the violin sonata, was that pianist and violinist were operating on two different aesthetic wavelengths. Bengtson, a modern pianist in the objectivist sense, plays with a Bednarzwide-awake, eyes-pointed-straight-ahead style while Bednarz struck me as a very Romantic-styled violinist. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, provided that the two artists meet somewhere in the middle in terms of performance style, and they do, but it does make for some interesting listening. It’s almost like hearing Fritz Kreisler and Ian Hobson playing Chopin together. The same music, but two different approaches at the same time.

Of course, as I mentioned in my Scriabin review, Bengtson is a first-class musician who pays attention to niceties of style regardless of the composer being offered, and even Sviatoslav Richter played Szymanowski with a similar muscularity. Still, in some of the solo piano works—particularly the Études, Métopes, Masques and the “Oberek”—I preferred British pianist Martin Roscoe’s more Debussy-ish approach. The exception was the set of 20 mazurkas, and the reason I liked Bengtson’s performances was that he maintained a true mazurka tempo, even when the music specifically called for rallentandos or other distentions, which I felt held the music together better.

Thus I liked those, and the music for piano and violin, very much indeed, as much for Bednarz’s playing of the top line as for Bengtson’s accompaniments. These are first-rate performances of the music for violin and piano, moody and atmospheric in the soft passages, big-boned and dramatic in the more aggressive ones. These were, I felt, the highlights of this album, performances to be enjoyed over and over and over again, thus it is for these that I highly recommend that part of the set along with the mazurkas.

A mixed review, then; but if you can purchase individual tracks via download, that’s the way to go. Fill in the rest of your Szymanowski collection with the Martin Roscoe set.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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