KAROL SZYMANOWSKI - Violin Concerto No. 1 - Rosanne Philippens (Violin) - National Jeugd Orchestra - Xian Zhang (Conductor) - Julien Quentin (Piano) - Hybrid SACD - 723385367154 - Released: April 2015 - Channel Classics CCSSA36715

1} Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35
2} Chant de Roxane
3} Myths, Op. 30
4} Nocturne and Tarantella, Op. 28
5} (Stravinsky) Chanson Russe
6} (Stravinsky) L'Oiseau de Feu - Berceuse and Scherzo

The main work on this new CD, Karol Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 35 is not your typical violin concerto, in that it doesn't require that the violinist stand front and center of the orchestra like a peacock, and dazzle the audience with his or her technical prowess taking on demanding cadenzas and rapid-fire pizzicatos. Instead, its power and beauty lie in its highly expressive narrative. Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) was highly influenced by the music of Stravinsky and Scriabin, and melds the two styles into a hybrid of exceptional color and passion. In this case, the violin is the main voice of the orchestral fabric that leads the music forward rather than an external participant. At times, this concerto reaches near ecstatic levels of emotive expression and power where the violin and orchestra become one, and the music blooms in all its blazing color. And this is where violinist Rosanne Philippens fits right in. Her fluid phrasing and flawless legato bowing allows each and every note to sing. Some of the highest notes she plays, and there are many in this concerto, combine sweetness with a biting edge that could pierce through armor plating like a laser. There's a wonderful example of just that at the 11:00 minute mark. Despite its lack of technical hurdles, this work demands the highest degree of control and expressive projection from the soloist, and this is fully accomplished by Rosanne Philippens, in what I believe his her first recording.

I love the way Szymanowski thinks, and how he collects and writes down his ideas. His large scale symphonies are breathtaking in their scope and vision, but so too are his chamber works. Myths, Op. 30, one of his most popular works which has seen about 25 recordings, is a prime example. The middle movement in particular, titled Narcissus is very evocative in the way that the piano and violin parts repeat, or rather "reflect" each other to represent Narcissus gazing at his own reflection in the water. And both pianist Julien Quentin and Rosanne Philippens well project the limpid nature of this piece.

The disc closes with transcriptions for Violin and Piano of well known Stravinsky pieces, which reinforces the affinity both composers, who were born the same year by the way, share with each other. Highly recommended to well established Szymanowski fans and novices alike. The Concerto in particular is a pleasure to hear, especially when played this well.

Jean-Yves Duperron - May 2015