Sunday 19 February 2017

Discovering the music beneath: Janusz Wawrowski's Sequenza on Warner Classics

Janusz Wawrowski - Sequenza - Warner Classics
Berio, Ysaye, Brustad, Bacewicz, Pendercki, Opalka, Przybylski; Janusz Wawrowski; Warner Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 12 2017
Star rating: 4.0

A fearless account of Berio's solo violin piece the centre-piece of this stunning recital of modern music for unaccompanied violin

Luciano Berio's Sequenza VIII per violino solo forms the centrepiece of Sequenza a recital of 20th and 21st century music for solo violin from the Polish violinist Janusz Wawrowski on Warner Classics.  Wawrowski's recital moves from Eugene Ysaye's Violin Sonata in E major, Op.27 no. 8 through Bjarne Brustad's Eventyrsuite for violin solo to Grazyna Bacewicz's II Sonata per violino solo and Krzysztof Penderecki's Cadenza for violin solo. Following Berio's piece we hear two by Polish contemporaries of Wawrowski, Tomasz Jakub Opalka's Fil d'araignee pour violon and Dariusz Przybylski's Up for violin solo.

As a student Janusz Wawrowski performed all of Paganini's 24 Caprices in a single evening, a feat which found its way onto Wawrowski's first recording (available from Amazon). So it should come as no surprise that Berio's fearsome Sequenza should hold no terrors for him, and he surrounds Berio's work with an invigorating survey of mainly 20th century music for violin solo.

He starts with one of Eugene Ysaye's sonatas for solo violin from 1924, the last sonata in the group dedicated to the Spanish violinist Manuel Quiroga. From the first Wawrowski displays a lovely sweet tone allied to a superb technique. The sonata is stylistically diverse, Ysaye regarded it as a sort of portrait of Quiroga, but Wawrowski throws off the sheaves of notes with aplomb and plays in a manner which shows he really believes in the music.

Norwegian violinist Bjarne Brustad's Eventyrsuite for solo violin dates from 1932, and combines the influence of Norwegian folk-music with neo-classicism. The Hardanger Fiddle is heavily referenced in the work. The first movement, Natur og Hulder refers to a mythical figure, a female troll, and Brustad uses a single rhapsodic violin line to invoke fragments of folk-dance. In Veslefrikk, which refers to a fairy-tale figure, the folk influence is far greater with clear references to Hardanger Fiddle music. Sull (meaning short melody) is a melancholy folk-dance accompanied by a drone, whilst the final movement Trollkvenna (Troll's grinder) is another fairy tale depicted in an edgy toccata which is rather a tour-de-force from Wawrowski. It was lovely to encounter this music, with the combination of early 20th century ethos with Norwegian folk music.

Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz's II Sonata per violino solo dates from 1958. In two movements, the first movement is long with multiple contrasts of tempo. Bacewicz shows a fascination for unisons and seconds on the violin and the texture is often spare, even when the line seems busy, and Wawrowski  brings out the intensity of the work's powerful moments. The short second movement is an impressively fast, skittering piece.

Krzystof Penderecki's Cadenza for violin solo was created in 1987. There is something quite rhetorical about the musical gestures, and Penderecki mainly uses a very vibrant single line. As the intensity of the work develops, it becomes almost a digest of rhetorical gestures.

Luciano Berio's Sequenza VIII per violino solo was written in 1976 for the virtuoso violinist Carlo Chiarappa. It is an outrageous, almost impossible piece yet Wawrowski  plays with with dramatic aplomb. It is a stupendous performance in which Wawrowski creates a very real sense of multiple voices in conversational dialogues, as stark repeated notes and chords alternate with virtuosic flurries of notes. Wawrowski  really goes at it, and seeming makes light of the technical difficulties to create a dramatic piece.

The final two pieces on the disc were written by Wawrowski's contemporaries in Poland. Tomasz Jakub Opalka''s Fil d'araignee pour violon from 2014 starts with a slow expressionist melody which alternates with harshly intense moments to create a tricky and striking solo. By contrast Dariusz Przybylski's Up for violin solo from 2015 seems to take scales as its starting point, using a variety of repeating motifs to create the feeling of solo studies on acid.

Wawrowski has put together a remarkable survey of modern solo violin music, showing the various ways which composers addressed the challenges of writing for a single violin. Much of the music is technically challenging and the virtues of this disc are the way Wawrowski goes beyond the technical to discover the music beneath.

Eugene Ysaye - Violin Sonata in E major, Op.27 no. 8 (1923/24)
Bjarne Brustad -  Eventyrsuite for violin solo (1932)
Grazyna Bacewicz -  II Sonata per violino solo (1958)
Krzysztof Penderecki - Cadenza for violin solo (1987)
Luciano Berio - Sequenza VIII per violino solo (1976)
Tomasz Jakub Opalka - Fil d'araignee pour violon (2014)
Dariusz Przybylski - Up for violin solo (2015)
Janusz Wawrowski (violin)
Recorded 4-6 August & 10 October 2015, Red Hall of the Witold Lutoslawski National Forum of Music, Wroclaw
WARNER CLASSICS 08256 4 65065 6 9 1CD [62.56]
Available from Amazon.

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