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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartet in C major, Op.54 No.2 (1788) [19:52]
Grażyna BACEWICZ (1909-1969)

String Quartet No. 4 (1951) [22:40]
Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904)

String Quartet No.14 in A flat major, Op.105 (1895) [33:23]
The Szymanowski Quartet: Marek Dumicz (violin), Gregorz Kotow (violin), Vladimir Mykytyka (viola), Marcin Sieniawski (cello)
rec. Angelika-Kauffmann-Saal, Schwarzenberg, Austria, 24-27 March, 2004. SACD
AVIE AV2092 [76:00]

Established in Warsaw in 1995, the Szymanowski Quartet has already had considerable success. In May 2001 the Quartet was chosen to take part in BBC Radio Three’s New Generation Artists Scheme, their performances thus getting a good deal of exposure. As tends to be the way with younger string quartets nowadays, they have put in the time on the competition circuit, and they have had successes at competitions in Florence (the Premio Vittorio Gui), Osaka, Melbourne and Hannover (they studied together in the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hannover). They have performed at many music festivals in Europe. This is, I believe, their first CD.

My first reactions were not entirely happy. The opening vivace of Haydn’s Op.54 No.2 was, for my tastes, played in too ‘romantic’ a manner, with pauses and and surely excessive use of rallentando, so that lines become over-fragmented. This is, admittedly, a quartet of which Cecil Gray wrote that "one can quite easily imagine it to have been written by Beethoven in his early, or even early middle period", but even if we grant this, it is a question of balance. In this performance the opening movement sounds not so much like an anticipation of Beethoven as a consequence of the example of Beethoven. After that, things are altogether more persuasive. The beautiful adagio is well played and the quartet respond very well to the elements of gipsy style; the minuet (popular enough to be put to use in a musical clock in Esterhazy) is attractively handled and the near-eruption of the C minor Trio is properly forceful. The very individual finale, with its central presto sandwiched between two adagios, elicits some attractive playing. But I remain unconvinced by the first movement!

Grażyna Bacewicz’s String Quartet No.4 is the best known of the seven which she wrote. It was awarded first prize at the International Composer’s Competition in Liege in 1951 and has now been recorded quite a few times – by, for example, the Warsaw String Quartet on Olympia, the Wister Quartet on Direct-to-Tape, the Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet on Troubadisc, the Maggini Quartet on ASV and the Amar Corde Quartet on Acte Préalable. I haven’t heard all of these recordings and, in any case, this isn’t the place for a detailed comparison. The Szymanowskis capture much of the work’s intensity. Harmonically complex, there is a sense of troubled conflict throughout much of the work, released only in the dancing rhythms of the final allegro giocoso. There are decidedly Bartokian passages and some subtle use of folk-like materials. If I have a criticism of this performance it is perhaps that it is at times just a little too smooth, a little lacking in bite. But others may very well feel differently – this is a powerful performance of a fine work.

The disc closes with a very enjoyable performance of Dvořák’s marvellous quartet No.14, Op. 105, in which the Szymanowski’s play with both precision and relaxation; there is an impressive sense of ensemble and the whole performance communicates a real sense of affection and grace. The riches of the opening movement, after its sombre opening, are played with conviction and, where appropriate, sparkle. In the third movement (‘Lento e molto cantabile’), the balance of melody and countermelodies is very winningly handled, and in the final allegro there is an irresistibly dancing quality. This is perhaps the most wholly convincing of the three performances.

This is an impressive recording debut by the Szymanowski Quartet, even if I have my slight reservations about the Haydn which opens the programme. The technical certainty of the musicians is absolute, the quartet’s ensemble seemingly perfect.

This SACD recording has been heard only on a standard CD player – on which the sound is excellent.

Glyn Pursglove

See also review by David Blomenberg


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