Grazyna Bacewicz’s music has long been an integral part of musical life in Poland, yet it is only in recent years that her work has gradually started to attain the recognition it deserves outside her native country.
This wider recognition has largely come about as a result of an increasing stream of recordings, none more so than in this, the one hundredth anniversary year of her birth. Earlier in 2009 it was Chandos that celebrated the centenary. Having previously released a disc of her music for violin and piano, the latest Chandos offering of three of Bacewicz’s seven Violin Concertos features Joanna Kurkowicz as a compelling soloist in a fine recording well worthy of exploration.
As a professional violinist, much of Bacewicz’s music involves strings and it is therefore entirely appropriate that Hyperion’s contribution to the Bacewicz centenary showcases four of her major works for string orchestra. Two of these, the Concerto for String Orchestra
and Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion
are amongst her most significant compositional achievements.
The earliest and briefest of the works, the Sinfonietta
of 1935, dates from shortly after the composer’s return to Poland from studies in Paris. It’s a confident and assured work that revels in the tricks of metre and structure that were to inform many of her subsequent pieces, whilst skilfully alternating passages of optimistic exuberance with episodes of darker hue. As a benchmark the language is sometimes not too far away from the Tippett of the Concerto for Double String Orchestra
. The occasional and rarely obvious inflections of folk-music rhythm rather than melody, point towards the early music of Lutoslawski, a close contemporary of Bacewicz.
Moving forward eleven years, the Symphony
of 1946 is an altogether more weighty and darker affair than its earlier, lighter-toned companion. It speaks of a Poland just beginning to emerge from the horrors of the war years. The rigorous, tautly constructed nature of the musical argument here recalls another English composer close to Tippett in Elizabeth Maconchy. The music is cast in four movements with a deeply felt yet austere Adagio
forming the second movement. There’s also a substantial Theme and Variations
in conclusion. This occasionally hints at Bartók before drawing the work to a deeply serious close. Like the Sinfonietta,
this is the Symphony’s first recording and although belated, it is to be celebrated that music of such quality and gravity is at long last in the public domain.
The Concerto for String Orchestra
was written only two years after the Symphony
, but unlike the Symphony
has always been one of the composer’s most recognised and admired works. In the Concerto
the clouds have lifted somewhat from the gravity of the Symphony
and although more serious ideas occasionally cut across the predominant energy and good spirit of the opening Allegro
, the overall impression is one of urgent vigour. In the concluding Vivo
the vigour of the first movement is replaced by an optimistic playfulness that has a radiant warmth at its heart. Even so, it is in the central Andante
that the real core of the work can be found, the music growing from the initial austerity of the opening bars into one of Bacewicz’s most beautiful creations. This is scored with the facility of a composer with an innate understanding of the string orchestra medium. It is not difficult to tell why the Concerto
has remained the composer’s most often played work.
By 1958, the time of the Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion
, Bacewicz’s music had undergone a substantial sea-change. This is immediately evident in the gritty, more astringent nature of the thematic and harmonic material. Unlike Lutoslawski, Bacewicz never went on to experiment in a serious way and Bartók remains the single most obvious influence on her work, although it does clearly demonstrate that the composer was not afraid to push her language in new directions. The sparingly scored, intensely lonely atmosphere of the Adagio
is unsettling in its desolation. For that reason it is also one of the composer’s most striking and individual slow movements. Despite the tougher nature of the outer movements, they still share the same concerns of structure and rhythmic drive that pervade the earlier works on the disc. They evidence that Bacewicz always remained true to her core musical and creative principles.
Ronald Corp and the orchestra he founded twenty-one years ago have now made twenty recordings for Hyperion. They included a work by Bacewicz in the orchestra’s twentieth anniversary concert in 2008. Here they provide further evidence of their commitment to Bacewicz’s music with persuasive accounts of all four works. Ultimately though, it is the Concerto for String Orchestra
and Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion
that shine most brightly.