At the beginning of this year, I announced that Naxos Special Projects had combined their four volumes of the complete piano music of Karol Szymanowski, as performed by the English pianist Martin Roscoe, into a single package. As a follow-up to the investigation of the Szymanowski catalog, Brilliant Classics has now prepared a new release of that composer’s complete music for violin and piano, performed by violinist Bruno Monteiro with pianist João Paulo Santos, both of whom are Portuguese. (Are there not any Polish musicians interested in a similarly comprehensive approach to “the most celebrated Polish composer of the early 20th century,” in the words of his Wikipedia entry?) This recording will not be released in physical form until next month. As usual, Amazon.com has set up a Web page for taking pre-orders; but, as of the beginning of this month, the full album has been available for download from iTunes.
As a performing musician, Szymanowski was distinguished as a pianist, which provides a useful perspective for his piano compositions. However, he also had a close relationship with the Polish violinist Paul Kochanski, who gave the first performance of Szymanowski’s D minor violin sonata (the composer’s earliest piece of chamber music) in 1909, accompanied by pianist Arthur Rubinstein. This turned out to be the beginning of a highly productive relationship. Of the eleven compositions in this recorded collection, two are dedicated to Kochanski; but, of greater interest, four are the result of a collaborative effort involving both Szymanowski and Kochanski. (Meanwhile, Rubinstein’s recorded legacy of Szymanowski’s music is relatively sparse. His solo recordings included only five of the Opus 50 mazurkas; but he did record the Opus 60 symphonie concertante, which was dedicated to him in 1932, with Alfred Wallenstein conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic.)
Much of the collection consists of short pieces that may have been intended for encore purposes, which may explain Kochanski’s active participation. Szymanowski only composed the one sonata, and the other extended composition is the Opus 30 suite of three movements entitled Myths, each of which amounts to a meditation on Greek mythology somewhat in the spirit of Claude Debussy’s piano preludes. (Debussy is recognized as one of Szymanowski’s influences.) Like Debussy, Szymanowski had an acute sense of sonority when his music had been composed for the sake of depiction; and Monteiro’s playing on this new recording is particularly effective in escalating the mood of Opus 30 beyond the plane of mere mortals.
While this is not a particularly large collection (less than two hours of music on two CDs), it is highly absorbing, making a strong case that this music deserves more attention when violinists are planning their recital programs.