Paganini Meets Szymanowski

violinist Oleh Krysa


Niccolò Paganini’s Twenty-four Caprices were written for solo violin between 1802 and 1817. Each features one or two distinct technical challenges for the violin. In 1918 the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) radically transformed the 20th, 21st and 24th caprices by adding piano accompaniment. Listen to the original Caprice No. 20, which opens with a simple melody accompanied by a D string drone. Then listen to Szymanowski’s slightly haunting version, which drips with an opulent pre-war Viennese harmonic lacquer.

Szymanowski’s Three Paganini Caprices, Op. 40 appears on Oleh Krysa’s 2010 recording, Dedicated to Paganini:

Listen to Krysa perform the 21st and 24th caprices. Here is Symanowski’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in D minor,Op 9.

Recommended Recording: Szymanowski and Shostakovich Sonatas

Szymanowski and Shostakovich Violin SonatasCanadian violinist Frédéric Bednarz and pianist Natsuki Hiratsuka have released an exciting new recording featuring sonatas for violin and piano by two giants of twentieth century music: Karol Szymanowski and Dmitri Shostakovich.

Polish composer and pianist Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937) is sometimes overlooked, but his music occupies an important position between Late Romanticism and the French Impressionism of Debussy and Ravel. Written in 1904, Szymanowski’s Violin Sonata Op. 9, grabs your attention with a powerfully brilliant opening. This recording captures a sense of strength and heroism as well as the more ethereal side of the music (as in the second movement). At times there are echoes of Chopin in the piano writing.

Written in 1968, Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 134 was one of Shostakovich’s last works. The atmosphere of the music, sometimes eerie, other times sarcastic or ferocious, comes across beautifully in this performance. The sonata was written for David Oistrakh in celebration of his 60th birthday. Oistrakh explained:

Dmitri had been wanting to write a new, second concerto for me as a present for my 60th birthday. However, there was an error of one year in his timing. The concerto was ready for my 59th birthday. Shortly afterwards, Dmitri seemed to think that, having made a mistake, he ought to correct it. That is how he came to write the Sonata … I had not been expecting it, though I had long been hoping that he would write a violin sonata.

You can find this recording on iTunes and here. Read more in this review from last month’s Strad Magazine.