CD Review: Polish Violin Concertos

By William Dart

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Polish Violin Concertos fills in the gaps between Chopin and Penderecki.
Polish Violin Concertos fills in the gaps between Chopin and Penderecki.

Naxos has done much for New Zealand music, recording our two major orchestras playing composers from Jack Body and Lyell Cresswell to Ross Harris and Jenny McLeod. Best of all, these CDs, released overseas, give our culture a much appreciated global audience.

The label performs similar services for other countries, most recently with this set of Polish violin concertos played by Piotr Plawner and the Berlin Chamber Orchestra under Jurgen Bruns.

Polish music is more than just Chopin mazurkas and the 1960s radicalism of Krzysztof Penderecki. There's also Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969), a composer of such stature that Naxos had the Lutoslawski Quartet record her complete string quartets last year.

Bacewicz's 1937 Violin Concerto, written while she was concertmaster of the Polish Radio Orchestra, bristles with purpose especially in its Allegro which receives a rollicking rendition from Plawner.

Its neo-classical leanings are echoed in five slighter pieces by Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986).

These nudge a little too much, with a two-minute finale bubbling away over a "till ready" riff, but the musicians do illuminate the second piece's melancholy music box.

After a taste of the music of the very eclectic Michal Spisak (1914-1965), a 1971 Concerto by Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) is the most substantial offering on the disc.

Panufnik immigrated to Britain in 1954 to find political and musical freedom and this score's central Adagio might well catch some of the struggles he must have had. Commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin, the legendary violinist's recording of this soul-searching movement takes just over 10 minutes, compared to Pawner's 8'43", putting the younger man at a fatal disadvantage.

What: Polish Violin Concertos (Naxos)
Rating: 4/5
Verdict: Filling in the gaps between Chopin and Penderecki

- NZ Herald

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