Masternak Plays “Parallels”

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MOZART: Violin Sonata in G, K. 301/293a. RAVEL: Posthumous Violin Sonata. ELSNER: Violin Sonata in F. SZYMANOWSKI: Dance from “Harnasie” for violin & Piano. TANSMAN: 5 Pieces for Violin & Piano or Small Orchestra / Oriana Masternak, vln; Justyna Danczowska, pno / Dux 1711

Polish violinist Oriana Masternak, in addition to being a solo player, is also a founding member of the Messages Quartet, which specializes in Polish music, as well as the member of a jury in international competitions. On this CD she includes the music of two of her countrymen, Karol Szymanowski and Alexandre Tansman, along with the old-timers Mozart, Elsner and Ravel.

One thing you have to say for her is that she is a pretty peppy player. After a really lovely legato opening, she attacks the Mozart sonata with gusto, and her pianist, Justyna Damczowska, is just as lively as she is. I was very impressed by the posthumous Ravel Violin Sonata, particularly when I learned that it was actually an early work from 1897, when he was only 22 years old. Masternak plays it with both conviction and the right style, bringing out its impressionistic qualities beautifully. The only real weakness with the piece is that Ravel repeats his themes too often, a flaw he would correct within the following decade.

The violin sonata by the little-known Jozef Elsner, written in 1805, is a good, solid piece but not a particularly adventurous one, though it does reflect a few ideas borrowed from Beethoven. Truthfully, I don’t know why Masternak wasted her time learning and recording this piece. It’s pretty much a big nothing.

Which, if course, makes the contrast between this piece and the Szymanowski “Dance from Harnasie” all the more striking. This is superb music, lying somewhere between Ravel and Stravinsky as Szymanowski so often does, and she plays it superbly…although the slow tempo of the first half doesn’t lead you to expect the almost violent rhythm of the dance when it appears.

I was especially delighted to hear the 5 Pieces for Violin & Piano by Tansman, particularly since the first of these is written in a sort of manic ragtime rhythm with asymmetric beats. The second piece, though mostly quite slow, suddenly perks up near the end and resembles the sound of a music box, while the third is a terrifying “perpetual motion” piece with some really tricky passages for the violinist. Yet it is the fifth piece, titled “Basso ostinato,” where Tansman really pulls out all the stops, creating a driving piece in straight, fast fours that hurtles both musicians to their conclusion.

Except for the Elsner piece, which is a waste of space on this CD (thought it will undoubtedly get air play on a lot of classical FM stations), this is an excellent and interesting recital, played with both style and energy. Brava, Oriana!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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