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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Naxos offer an exceptionally clear recording of these four concertante works by Szymanowski, not just the two Violin Concertos but orchestrated versions of the Nocturne and Tarantella. Ilya Kaler, as on other Naxos discs, gives pure, clear readings, with flawless intonation and careful use of vibrato. Having a Polish conductor and orchestra as his accompanists adds to the idiomatic feel of each, with the magical orchestral sounds beautifully conjured up, particularly in No.1, the more radical of the two works. This matches any current version at whatever price.

Music Teacher International, October 2008

Composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) found his inspiration in native Polish folk music. Both of these concertos show the influence of indigenous tunes as well as the influence of the great Polish violinist Pavel Kochanski to whom both works are dedicated. Both are remarkable for their clarity of texture and for their intense lyricism and unusual orchestral timbres. The by turns intense and virtuosic Nocturne and Tarantella is an ideal vehicle for the violin’s singing and bravura qualities, epitomized in Kaler’s lush playing. It draws on the impressionism of Debussy as well as the sharp astringency of Stravinsky and colour of Spanish folklore. Nevertheless the idiom is Szymanowski’s own, rich in tonal and textural invention, pushing the boundaries of violinistic possibility to new heights. Gold Medal winner of three prestigious violin ‘grand slams’, the Tchaikowsky, the Sibelius and Paganini Prizes, violinist Ilya Kaler has been compared to Heifetz or Perlman. As soloist, chamber musician, concertmaster, and currently Professor of Violin at De Paul University in Chicago, Kaler adds another feather to his cap with this stunning recording.

Scott Cantrell
The Dallas Morning News, October 2007

Born in Ukraine to a Polish father and a mother of Swedish extraction, Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) became the highest-profile Polish composer between Chopin and the moderns Witold Lutoslawski and Krzysztof Penderecki. Well-traveled and well-read, he brought various influences, such as Greek and Arab mythology and Polish folk music, to his compositions.

The scintillating sensuousness of Szymanowski's music often suggests comparison with the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, 10 years older. But listen to the early Violin Sonata and you'll hear more influences from the turn-of-the-20th-century Germans Richard Strauss and Max Reger.

By the time of the First Violin Concerto (1916), Szymanowski was infatuated with Debussy and Ravel, but you'll also hear quite a bit of Firebird Stravinsky. There's more of the same, plus a good deal of Scriabin, in the contemporary Myths for violin and piano. Seventeen years later, the Second Violin Concerto is less indulgently sensuous, more direct in its musical language, reflecting a late interest in the folk music of Poland's Tatra highlands.

Continuing a sizable Szymanowski discography on the Naxos label, these two discs also allow you to hear two versions of the Nocturne and Tarantella: the violin-and-piano original and Grzegorz Fitelberg's exquisite orchestration. The Nocturne is a sexy Spanish dance, the Tarantella a flashy Italian one.

Ilya Kaler plays gorgeously in the violin-and-orchestral works, with fine support from conductor Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic and splendid recorded sound. The chamber works [Naxos 8.557748] could use a little more acoustical air around them, but they're ably performed by American violinist Miriam Kramer and British pianist Nicholas Durcan.

Adrian Corleonis
Fanfare, September 2007

Sound is immediate, transparent, and kaleidoscopically detailed, with the soloist upfront as the crooning leader of Dionysian revels. Recommended. © 2007 Fanfare Read complete review

Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, July 2007

Of all early 20th century composers, Karol Szymanowski remains one of the greatest to evade universal recognition. Here are extravagantly beautiful violin concertos — one from 1916 when he was in his mid- 30s, the other from near the end of his life in 1932 (he was only in his mid-50s at his death) — that are simply one devastating theme away from being repertoire staples along with Bartok’s Concerto No. 2, the century’s violin masterwork with its soul-wrenching opening and formidable architecture. Kaler is a superb violinist, and Wit’s Warsaw Orchestra is perfectly attuned to the lucid, post-Impressionist palette of Szymanowski, a master orchestrator.

Edward Greenfield
Gramophone, July 2007

A wonderfully compelling disc from Ilya Kaler and Antoni Wit, in the sense that you never want to stop listening to it. Together they explore Syzmanowski's fantasy world, with Kaler in particular relishing the melodic sweetness, and the sense of an exploration of a strange yet delightful terrain.

-Editor's Choice.

Naxos offers an exceptionally clear recording of these three concertante works by Szymanowski, not just the two Violin Concertos but an orchestrated version of the Nocturne and Tarantella. Ilya Kaler, as on his other Naxos discs, gives pure, clear readings with flawless intonation and careful use of vibrato. Having a Polish conductor and orchestra as his accompanists adds to the idiomatic feel of each, with the magical orchestral sounds beautifully conjured up, particularly in No 1, the more radical of the two works.

Like Kaler, Thomas Zehetmair plays with flawlesss intonation in a wonderfully pure reading, using minimal vibrato. Kaler is a degree warmer with a shade more vibrato, and the Naxos recording brings out the fantasy of the composer's orchestration, particularly in No 1, with wonderful clarity. Lydia Mordkovitch is warmer still, playing with hushed intensity in the gentle passages and relishing the pure beauty of the passages of writing above the stave. In the more openly lyrical Second Concerto, Mordkovitch makes the Andantino deeply reflective at a very measured pace, while the others adopt more flowing speeds with lighter results.

Kaler then plays the relatively brief Nocturne and Tarantella just as sympathetically, with the Tarantella a flamboyant virtuoso vehicle making a splendid climax to an excellent disc. The point which trumps all competition inevitably is that the Naxos issue, beautifully and idiomatically played and brilliantly recorded, comes at such a reasonable price.

Anthony Clarke
Limelight, July 2007

One of the strengths of Naxos has always been its willingness to feature instrumentalists and orchestras found far from the grazing-fields of the big classical labels such as EMI or Decca. Here we have a superb partnership of violinist Ilya Kaler with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Antoni Wit, and I doubt if a stronger partnership could be found to give a more persuasive account of these works…[The two violin concertos] are impressive works which need repeated listening to yield their full measure. Filling out the disc are the composer’s Nocturne and Tarantella Op. 28, written for violin and piano, but here presented in an orchestral arrangement by another hand, Grzegorz Fitelberg, and drawing on both Spanish and Italian folk traditions.

Malcolm Hayes
Classic FM, June 2007

Now that Nicola Benedetti’s recording has put Szymanowski's gorgeous, exotic and long-neglected First Violin Concerto firmly on the map, lo and behold, other violinists are doing it too. Here we also get the fine, and very different, Second Concerto (influenced by Polish folk music), plus a sumptuous orchestral bonus - the Nocturne and Tarantella. The sheer command of Ilya Kaler’s playing impresses, rather than moves you. There’s no arguing, though, with his brilliance and firepower: and he’s supported by thrilling orchestral accompaniments. And in the First Concerto especially, the recording captures a real feast of colourful detail.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, May 2007

On the evidence of this disc Kaler is one of the most distinguished of Szymanowski players. His technique is cast iron, his tonal purity remains intact even in the most vertiginous demands made upon it, and he has a sure and cogent view of the manifold architectural difficulties facing the intrepid interpreter. The concertos make very different – but equally complex – demands on the player as they do indeed of the conductor. Fortunately Kaler has Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic alongside. Together a compelling case is made for the concertos, one that easily surmounts questions of price bracket. This is first and foremost a formidably well-played and interpreted brace of performances. The fact that it comes at Naxos’s price makes it only that much more desirable.

In the First Concerto we can note straight away his well focused but yet still silken tone. He avoids tonal exaggeration and disparities between the G and the upper strings in those treacherous high wire acts that Szymanowski calls for.  His view is very slightly slower than some – Danczowska/Kord most obviously – but never sounds remotely drawn out. In fact articulation is one of the best features of the recording. So too is the recorded balance, where flute and clarinet are prominent without being unnaturally spotlit. The powerful orchestral argument – the wind chatter, the brass fanfares, the horn calls, the percussive drama – are all assuredly potent in the mixing brew.

Similar excellence attends to the Second Concerto. Tension is powerfully screwed up through sheerly musical means. The blistering bowing demands are met with accomplishment whilst orchestrally the defiant blasts are corralled by Wit with surety. The horns, once again, perform heroically but there’s also lissom and elegant playing to balance the more boisterous passages. In a performance as good as this one the natural heroism and drama of the writing emerges in waves.

There’s an interesting novelty in the shape of the Fitelberg orchestration of the familiar Nocturne and Tarantella. Fitelberg was of course a great champion of the composer but his work borders at points on the generic and even at one or two points worryingly close to a kind of proto-Western music.

That’s a small matter. This release now jumps to the head of the front-runner stakes alongside the Danczowska performances. Older traversals will obviously include Uminska and Oistrakh in No.1, and Wilkomirska in both concertos. But for those who want excellent sound, intelligently argued performances and instrumental finesse then this is a handsome bargain – at whatever price bracket.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2007

The performances of Szymanowski's two violin concertos already on Naxos are regarded among the finest in the catalogue, and now they are augmented by a new version with the most beautiful recorded sound ever accorded to the composer. The disc immediately grabs my attention by its avoidance of spotlighting the soloist, the solo role in the opening of the first concerto often forming part of the general texture. The sheer ecstasy of the music continues to a pure orgasm of sound as we reach the climatic point of the score, the music eventually returning to its opening. The one point where the soloist is given a cadenza - supplied by the composer's friend, Kochanski - finds ample brilliance from Ilya Kaler, his instrument soaring on high in flights of musical eroticism. The Second offers the soloist more prominence, though Antoni Wit equally shapes this as a large-scale orchestral work with violin solos. Like the First it is in one movement of two halves linked by a brilliant Kochanski cadenza. It would be difficult to imagine orchestral playing of such shimmering impassioned colours, the strings rivalling anything in Vienna or Berlin. The surprise comes at the disc's end when the Nocturne and Tarantella, usually heard in its original form for violin and piano, comes in Grzegorz Fitelberg's score for full orchestra. A highly desirable release, though I am not about to abandon my old Naxos release of the concertos with Andrzej Kulka and Roman Lasocki as soloists, it is a priceless jewel.

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