Lessons and Karols
Weill Recital Hall
Franz Joseph Haydn: Quartet Op. 54, No.2
Karol Szymanowski: Quartet No. 2
Johannes Brahms: Quartet No. 1
Szymanowski Quartet: Marek Dumicz and Grzegorz Kotow (violins), Vladimir Mykitka (viola), Marcin Sieniawski (cello)
Perhaps the most telling anecdote about the life of Karol Szymanowski is that, although still a young man, he spent the entire Great War taking advantage of the interval to retire to one of his country estates in the Ukraine (now Poland) to read the classics and explore the mystical side of various Near Eastern religions. Born to tremendous wealth, this dear friend of Artur Rubinstein had the luxury of total immersion in his art and the result for posterity is a richly varied and superbly colored, if neglected, repertoire. In the 1920’s, he joined a Bohemian (although Polish) artists’ colony high in the Tatric mountains, incorporating much of their faintly Oriental harmonies into his music. The parallels to Bartok are obvious and, in fact, the Hungarian master’s monumental Violin Concerto # 2, a piece for which one could make a case as the most important work of the previous century, contains a rather generous amount of “appropriations” from this aristocratic esthete’s work of the same name premiered three years earlier.
For purposes of posthumous recognition, nothing succeeds like committed acolytes. Fresh from the Isaac Stern chamber music workshop of last year, the young Szymanowski Quartet presented their Carnegie debut with a highly enthusiastic rendition of the thorny second, much more spirited and folk-inspired than the drier versions I have encountered on CD. Errors of enthusiasm only served to enhance the general sense of excitement. The Brahms also was imbued with youthful passion, fitting for this watershed work ushering in the mature period, but ultimately unsatisfying due to technical lapses, particularly lingering fingers on strings. The Szymanowski is definitely a work in progress and in need of some stylistic coaching, the Haydn much too Romantic in its phrasing. But certainly the potential is there: I would love to revisit them on their next US tour.
Frederick L. Kirshnit