Thursday, March 21, 2013

Szymanowski's Bolero

I think of Szymanowski as a "neglected" composer. Probably there are too many recordings and performances nowadays for that label to really be valid, and I'm not sure that they really need more exposure. His music is probably best in the penumbra of not-quite-so-well known.

I first discovered the Mythes for violin and piano about 12 years ago in the unmatchable recording on Deutsche Grammophon by Krystian Zimerman and Kaja Danczowska. The textures in that piece, the sensuality, the achingly languid melodies, show straight away what a genius the composer was. What a masterwork! I performed it with a violinist only once, and despite our preparation the concert was curiously unsatisfying, not helped by a unsympathetic piano. While I'd love to do it again, the sensation of reaching for the unattainable performance without quite making it seems in keeping with the wistful of Szymanowski.

I'm playing another violin and piano piece, the Nocturne and Tarantella, next week. While the Nocturne is truly beautiful, I didn't appreciate the Tarantella at first. It's grown on me. While it shows an early Szymanowski still finding his voice, I like to compare it with a late work by Ravel, the Bolero. Both works are by the greatest orchestrators and musical sensualists of all time, and are rhythmic and repetitive to an uncharacteristic degree. If anyone else had written these pieces, no one would be playing them. But the subtle shifts in color and dynamic in the Tarantella, if done right, change the piece from a bland virtuosic romp into something with a quiet internal glow despite all the outward ruckus.

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