Thursday, March 28, 2013

OOPS The review didn't make it!!!! One test of genius in art is that one always finds something new. In the work of Leos Janacek, Karol Szymanowski and Wiltold Lutoslawski there is simply no end to discovery. All fought internal and external battles to get their music heard. Their intensity of feeling, sometimes disturbingly expressed, always moving and intellectually fascinating, marks them as three of the 20th century’s most enduring creators. Janacek’s violin sonata was written at the same time as the three “Myths” of Szymanowski – in 1914. The Moravian Janacek, was 60, the Szymanowski, a Pole, was 36. Janacek was obsessed with the First World War, the dreamy esthete Szymanowski, was living with his partner, the great violinist Paul Kochanski, escaping into a world of edgy soaring, erotic fantasies. Janacek finalized his sonata in 1921, achieving a tempestuous and tender work. Its violent first movement alternates lyric lines and angry outbursts, building to a surprisingly reassuring D flat major triad. The second movement, called “Ballade” is one of the most gorgeous melodies from this composer, breathtakingly spun out and sustained, despite a violent episode. The third movement, marked “Allegretto”, is a scherzo with some tough writing in a folk style (Janacek was a great collector of folk music) but the finale, Adagio, has a rhapsodic feel, alternating soaring melodies with violent eruptions and an ambiguous, tragic end. Szymanowski’s decision to ‘come out’ affected his career well before his death in 1937, and it is only in the past thirty years that more people have become aware of his utterly singular mind. He treats three ancient Myths as the basis for a phenomenal demonstration of musical imagination. With Kochanski there to help, he was able to make practical his incredible coloristic imagination. His violin writing is original, flamboyant, subtle, bizarre, gorgeous – he plays fearlessly with harmonics, demands a vast array of techniques and takes crazy risks. Szymanowski. a virtuoso pianist, writes equally daunting and inventive accompaniments. There is simply nothing like this -- haunting, shocking, gorgeous. Lutoslawski (1913 – 1994) was one of the greatest 20th century composers. But his life was often in danger from reactionary Polish elements, The Nazis and then The Soviets. He had to hide much of his music for fear of reprisal. Subito (1992) was his last completed work. Like so many of his contemporaries he had gone through an rebellious phase rejecting romantic gestures, but as he aged, he came to embrace the full range of techniques in Western Music. Subito starts as fragments that come together as a refrain which occurs four times. Each time the refrain is followed by an ‘episode’ that uses material from the first refrain in surprising ways. Technically, the work is complex, yet its effect is hypnotic. Partita (1982) is an encyclopedia of compositional techniques, from improvisations (the work has two “Ad Libitum” movements, aleatoric, which means that crucial decisions are left up to the players) to a phenomenally planned and dense final movement, which even has a short, very moving homage to Szymanowski. The central Largo is an incredible intellectual achievement, free of tonality, amazingly inventive in chords and the use of harmonics in the violin, yet utterly inevitable in effect, absorbing and deeply moving. Isabelle Faust takes a voluptuous, songful approach to these works but she is a true virtuosa. Her pianist, Ewa Kuplec, offers terrific support. Though there is formidable competition in Lutoslawski by Anne Sophie Mutter, his late muse, and Gideon Kremer and Martha Agerich offer a stinging account of the Janacek, Faust holds up very well and this is a wonderful program overall. This, I guess, is an opera oriented blog, so I am not going to put opera down. And yet this gave me more pleasure that any highlight recording I've ever known.


  1. Hi there, Mrs. JC - how nice to see that you've set up shop here. I wish you every joy in it.

    I agree with you that this recital disc is marvelous - it's not to be dislodged from my iPod. I gather that this must be an older review, but it's still timely enough, given that this year we celebrate the Lutoslawski centenary. Some of the centenary concerts were broadcast over the net on Polish radio, so I've had a nice opportunity recently to hear some of the music again. Though Lutoslawski achieved international fame after WWII, he was a good 15+ years younger than the "Young Turks" who were enjoying success at the same time. That decade and a half made a big difference. The "neo-classical" works of his early years instilled in Lutoslawski musical values which he kept his whole life: an interest in transparency, in a leanness in facture, and a search for form that had classical precedent but was self-sustaining. (His younger colleagues tended to prefer gestural extravagance, textural density and non-teleological "Momentform".) So there has been a sense that Lutoslawski fell between two stools as a composer. (Ligeti was asked about him once in an interview - his answer was that "Lutoslawski was born in a difficult time"). I gave these violin pieces another listen just now, and I was struck again by the tremendous economy of Lutoslawski's writing (compare that with the garrulous chamber music written by Penderecki over the past couple decades.) I hope that Lutoslawski's more sober virtues appeal to audiences down the road - I would have thought by now his more "romantic" Piano Concerto and Chantefleurs/Chantefables song-cycle would have established themselves as concert favorites.

    But enough of my blather. Congratulations on the new blog, and I'll look forward to seeing what comes down the pike.

  2. (Ooops... this is "m. croche", by the way)