Reviews of Szymanowski 3-CD recording set

Outstanding performances by Blanka Bednarz and Matthew Bengtson.

The performances add up to over three hours of stunners. … Bednarz’s violin playing illuminates every detail of these sometimes nigh-impossible works. … Readers who have heard Bengtson’s [Scriabin complete piano sonatas] will appreciate his genius interpreting the music of a kindred spirit. … The technique of both artists is subordinate to the expressive and formal design. (Don O’Connor, American Record Guide, January/February 2018)


Violinist Blanka Bednarz is in possession of a very secure technique and, in the main, impeccable intonation … Bednarz also produces a richly varied tone, which she alters dynamically and coloristically in response to the music’s nuances and subtleties of the moment.

Matthew Bengtson has the lion’s share of this collection to himself … he plays with technical assurance and a sense of authority in his understanding of Szymanowski’s modes of expression and unique musical voice.

This collection … contains some of the composer’s most representative works and in performances and recordings that make it, in my opinion, something rather special. This can be strongly recommended then to those who already respond positively to Szymanowski’s music and to others of an adventurous spirit who are willing to find out if they might too.

— Jerry Dubins, Fanfare, Nov./Dec. issue, 2017


The Ibragimova-Tiberghien performance is a good one, and Ibragimova’s precision of execution and purity of tone are admirable, but I think Bednarz and Bengtson better capture the Romantic spirit of the piece. While Ibragimova’s tone is more centered, Bednarz’s is larger, richer, and more varied. In the Allegro moderato, patetico, first movement, the Bednarz-Bengtson reading is more expansive in pacing, more passionate in spirit, larger in scale, and more vivid in color. Ibragimova and Tiberghien are definitely more tranquillo in the ensuing Andantino tranquillo e dolce, with limited inflection, but Bednarz and Bengtson provide a more expressively shaped and rapturous interpretation that I find more engaging. In the Finale, the Ibragimova-Tiberghien duo may once again be closer literally to the marking of Allegro molto, quasi presto, but at a less driven, more varied tempo that gives more opportunity for expressive shaping, Bednarz and Bengtson achieve greater intensity and momentum.

In the 1910 Romance in D Major, op. 23 … the two performances are differentiated by the markedly contrasting tonal qualities of the two violinists and the much quicker tempo of Ibragimova and Tiberghien. They project a vigorous passion, while Bednarz and Bengtson are ardent in a more languorous manner. Bednarz’s insistence on maintaining a continuous line also contrasts with the more angular quality of Ibragimova’s playing.

Here Bednarz and Bengtson provide the more vivid and colorful account, with more pronounced shaping, while the rival duo’s straightforward treatment lacks the same degree of intensity. Much the same could be said about the remaining two pieces, Narcisse and Dryades et Pan.

Bednarz and Bengtson render all of these pieces with their customary combination of virtuosity, intensity, and engagement.

Bengtson’s playing throughout the duo selections is superb — energetic, vibrant, technically impeccable, and in perfect coordination with his partner. He is equally compelling on his own. His account of the four Études of op. 4 (1902) is fluent, well controlled, and effectively shaped.

Bengtson’s astutely characterized reading of L’Île des Sirènes differs from the relentlessly onrushing one of Sviatoslav Richter (Decca) and the more relaxed, fluid one of Roland Pöntinen (BIS). Bengtson’s prominent left hand emphasizes the undercurrent of menace emanating from this death-trap for mariners. In Calypso, Bengtson’s texture is fortified by a prominent bass presence, as it is in Richter’s considerably quicker account. Bengtson offers more clarity and explicit shaping than the smoothly flowing Pöntinen account. The third piece in this triptych, Nausicaa, depicting the dances and games of the Phaeacian princess and her friends that wake the shipwrecked Odysseus from his slumber on the beach, starts out calmly but eventually rises to frenzied activity. By comparison with Pöntinen (Richter did not record this item), Bengtson again benefits from superior clarity and color, and his attention to characterizing individual moments contrasts with Pöntinen’s emphasis on continuity.

Bengtson’s consummate virtuosity in the climax of this piece is stunning. Breathtaking virtuosity, as well as vivid color and effective characterization, are to be heard in Masques, op. 34.

It is clear that Bengtson’s intensive study of this music [Mazurkas] has given him a deep understanding of it, and his flexible, shapely, and nuanced accounts, with their greater variety, wider contrasts, and more pronounced characterization, stand apart from the more aggressive performances of Hamelin and the steadier, plainer ones of Pöntinen and Roscoe. Bengtson yields nothing to these rivals in virtuosity.

Both these performers deserve more attention. Blanka Bednarz is clearly a remarkable violinist.

The present release, offering a way to explore Szymanowski’s writing for solo piano and violin and piano in top-quality performances, is strongly recommended.

–Daniel Morrison, Fanfare, Nov./Dec. issue, 2017


Matthew Bengtson shows his virtuosity here [in four études], along with an ability to imbue the music with vivid color.

Bednarz and Bengtson dialogue in strong and exotic tones that erupt in the last myth. Here, violinist and pianist bring out the composer’s sensuality in a rich ambience that speaks directly to the listener’s emotions.

Masques is a true virtuoso showpiece that Bengtson plays with gusto.

Bednarz and Bengtson play the double stopped musical colors of dawn and the commanding strong rhythms of the wild dance with idiomatic distinction.

An ideal advocate of this repertoire [The Mazurkas op. 50 and 62], Matthew Bengtson’s virtuosity reveals all the evocative nuances in these scores.

Bednarz and Bengtson have produced a fascinating, expressive recording that will help to familiarize modern audiences with the Polish composer’s works.

— Maria Nockin, Fanfare, Nov./Dec. issue, 2017


.. a fascinating collection ..

Bengtson is a first-class musician who pays attention to niceties of style regardless of the composer being offered, and even Sviatoslav Richter played Szymanowski with a similar muscularity.

[In 20 Mazurkas] Bengtson maintained a true mazurka tempo … I liked those, and the music for piano and violin, very much indeed, as much for Bednarz’s playing of the top line as for Bengtson’s accompaniments. These are first-rate performances of the music for violin and piano, moody and atmospheric in the soft passages, big-boned and dramatic in the more aggressive ones … performances to be enjoyed over and over and over again.

–Lynn René Bayley, New Recording of Szymanowski’s Violin and Piano Works, The Art Music Lounge, an Online Journal of Jazz and Classical Music, August 21, 2017


Szymanowski Works for Violin/Piano; Piano Solo
Musica Omnia CD page.