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Heavy Artillery

Music by Bloch, Engel, Honegger, Milhaud and Szymanowski -
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'... an acceptable though rather dated style.'

Skowronski Plays! Avec et Sans, Vol II. © 2006 Skowronski Classical Recordings

Try as I might I recall no other reputable instrumentalist recording for his/her own label. No use of a vainglorious exclamation mark on a 'chamber music' CD cover (commercial or otherwise) springs to mind; then again I search my memory with faint hope for a modern instrument broker, acclaimed on the concert circuit.

In addition I feel unable to concur with conclusions attributed (as follows) to The American Record Guide and our own The Strad: 'Skowronski clearly is one of the best violinists in America.' (American Record Guide) and 'A musician with a highly personal approach to making music, Skowronski's fiery, intense and urbane readings certainly complement his powerful and spontaneous interpretations of the repertoire.' (The Strad)

After reading such positive endorsements from top Transatlantic magazines I listened to this disc with high expectations. Alas, from the opening bars of Bloch's Hasidic paean, Nigun, soloist Vincent P Skowronski 'makes a right meal' of this concert favourite.

Listen -- Bloch: Nigun (track 1, 0:27-1:29)
© 2006 Skowronski Classical Recordings

'Nigunim' are largely improvisations (though some are based on thematic passages), and stylized in form. Founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov, spoke of 'evekus nigunim' as 'songs that transcend syllables and sound'. They call for a rhapsodic approach, not heavy artillery.

Regretably, from start to finish, Skrowronski revels in 'fortissimi', and while doing so he belabours the fervent invocation, meddles with Bloch's clear beat, and finally provoked me to cry out loud -- 'lighten up'. For the sake of objectivity I invited a noted violinist to venture a second opinion -- he reached the same conclusion.

So how do Engel, Honegger, Milhaud and Szymanowski fare? I braced myself in preparation.

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Copyright © 14 May 2008 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand


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