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Ionarts-at-Large: Zimmermann & BRSO Do Szymanowski Proud

Here’s fantastic programming: Both of Karol Szymanowski’s Violin Concertos in one evening and Albert Roussel’s “Bacchus et Ariane” as dessert. In light of that Maurice Ravel’s Mother Goose as the appetizer (pâté?) may not be a necessary addition to this already rich fare, but in Stéphane Denève’s tender, empathetic, variously hushed and lively rendition (albeit one far away from the percussive world of the original two-piano version) it certainly whetted the appetite for what was to come.

I don’t remember last seeing Szymanowski on a concert program in Germany [actually, I do remember now: it was a little over two years ago, with the same orchestra in the same town], and perhaps he has the occasional outing, but they must be few, and far between. A pity really, because his romantic-impressionist idiom, tempered by folk rhythms à la Bartók, is an alluring and unique mix. Frank Peter Zimmermann apparently thinks so, too, which is why he—as the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra’s Artist in Residence—programmed the two violin concertos for himself to perform… and picked Stéphane Denève, the new man at the helm of the SWR-RSO Stuttgart where he succeeds Roger Norrington after 13 wildly successful years, to conduct the program.

available at Amazon
K.Szymanowski, Violin Ctos.,
F.P.Zimmermann / Swedish RSO, Warsaw PhilO. / Honeck, Wit

available at Amazon
K.Szymanowski, Violin Ctos etc.,
T.Zehetmair / CoBSO / Rattle

The two concertos, presented before and after intermission in chronological order, show off the various sides of Szymanowski’s compositional style—and the contrast between them—very nicely. The First, op.35 from 1916, displays the flittering romanticism of a restless Debussy with perhaps a hint of the more conventional style we find in his contemporary Josef Suk. The 16 years younger Second Concerto, op.61, shows more of the rough and angular additions to Szymanowski’s vocabulary.

Zimmermann has long championed these works and in 2009 he added his recording (Sony) to the slowly growing catalog that used to be dominated for years by Thomas Zehetmair’s excellent performances with Simon Rattle on EMI. In performance ‘FPZ’ is—in the best sense of the word—redoubtable… always his seemingly invariably excellent and tasteful self. In concertos that don’t need any glitz added to shine, his clear perfection can carry the day alone. In this case he added searing urgency, navigated the cadenzas—both written by the dedicatee and collaborator of these concertos, Paweł Kochański—with consummate skill and brazing gruff, growling with excitement at one point.

The slow opening of the Second Concerto is rich and heartrending and seems to continue, more or less, the voice of the First. But soon the chugging rhythms challenge the lyricism—a back and forth that goes on to dominate the sinuously tense concerto throughout. It was a treat and well recognized by the BRSO’s grateful audience which—thanks to the slightly more daring programming of that orchestral body—is the most open minded among Munich’s three big symphonic orchestra’s. (The truly explorative ears subscribe to the Munich Chamber Orchestra.)

It would have seemed that adding anything else after such a complex and rewarding meal might have been well intentioned overkill. And perhaps it was, but Albert Roussel’s Second Suite from Bacchus et Ariane was done too magnificently to complain. There was more color in the playing this evening—and particularly in the Roussel—as one might otherwise get in an entire BRSO season as Denève went all out trying to get atmosphere from every section while benefitting from the orchestra’s technical excellence along the way.

The concert was broadcast live on BR Klassik, but I’ve not yet figured out whether it can also be streamed after that fact or at some future date.

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