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Karol Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No.2 at Southbank

Leonidas Kavakos, fot. Yannis Bournias
London's Southbank Centre hosts a performance of Karol Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No.2, 
along with Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 6 by the London Philharmonic Orchestra

Karol Szymanowski composed his second Concerto for violin and orchestra Op. 61 at the behest of Paweł Kochański, the violinist who had once advised him on the famous Myths and the Violin Concerto No. 1, and this time devising no less than a cadence for the new concerto.

Kochański was also the first performer of the piece, which premiered on October 6, 1933 at the Warsaw Philharmonic. It turned out to be the last public performance of the ingenious violinist, Kochański died on January 12, 1934. Deeply moved by the departure of his friend Szymanowski appended the score with a dedication saying, "A la memoire du Grand Musicien, mon cher et inoubliable Ami, Paul Kochański".

Written in 1932-33, Concerto No. 2 is very different from the first one - primarily in the sparing use of technical means. Complicated harmony and chromatisms have given way to diatonics and modal lucidity. The dominant role is played by the changes of colour - the evolutions of chord sounds, virtuoso figurations and melodic motifs. The simple, lapidary themes underlie, however, a rich musical narrative. Architecturally, Szymanowski revisits the single-movement form whose two sections are separated by a violin cadence - a design known from his Violin Concerto No. 1, Symphony No. 3 and Piano Sonata No. 3. While the first building block has the form of a sonata allegro culminating with two episodes in the slow part and a scherzo, the other one is constructed like a rondo whose main theme, rhythmic, merry and bouncy, is evocative of the melodies of the Kurpie region and of the mood of the music of the Podhale region, ending with the initial theme of the first building block.

In London Szymanowski's Concerto is perferformed by the Greek virtuoso violinist Leonidas Kavakos. In 1985, at the age of 18, Kavakos was the youngest participant and still managed to win the first Sibelius Competition. Three years later he went on to win the Paganini Competition.

Kavakos performs with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Jaap van Zweden. On this evening the London Philharmonic Orchestra continues its year-long survey of Gustav Mahler's music with a performance of his Sixth Symphony. Gone are the jaunty folk tunes that dominate the first four symphonies. In their place is are thrusting rhythms, a demonic drive and an argumentative edge - all heard through an enlarged, empowered orchestra. The Sixth is compelling and overwhelming - a full-on charge towards a face-off with fate, represented by three infamous hammer blows in the orchestra's percussion.

The concert takes place on January 14, 2011 at Southbank Centre in London. The performance of Szymanowski's Concerto received support from Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of the "Polska Music" programme.
Southbank Centre
Royal Festival Hall
Belvedere Road
London SE1 8XX

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