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Grażyna BACEWICZ (1909-1969)
Complete Works for String Quartet Vol. 3
String Quartet No. 1 (mid-1930s) [15:21]
String Quartet No. 5 (1955) [25:58]
Piano Quintet No. 2 (1965) [16:57]
Amar Corde String Quartet (Barbara Stuhr (Violin 1); Boguslawa Ziegelheim (Violin 2); Beata Ploska (Viola); Agata Zając (Cello))
rec. September 1999, Filharmonia Krakowska, Poland

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The groundbreaking work continues with this final volume of Bacewicz’s works for string quartet as presented by the excellent Amar Corde quartet. As with the previous volume, this also contains a world premiere recording. In this case it’s the first quartet, which was quickly discarded by the composer. She was too busy working on new things to be much bothered with earlier compositions such as this quartet, which nonetheless has its nose pointed decidedly forward. Composed in the mid-1930s, the first quartet wasn’t even named by its composer until 1938, after she’d written her third quartet, available on AP0020. Regardless of the low esteem in which Bacewicz held this work, it remains a quartet of discriminating craftsmanship, displaying little insecurity regarding tone, structure, or effect. It is more of a strong work to this reviewer than Tippett’s first piano sonata, also composed toward the beginning of his career. Much more accessible than the sixth or seventh quartets, this piece by Bacewicz deserves wider recognition. The final Vivo has an almost American feel — one can imagine a piece composed by Copland in a light-hearted moment.

The fifth quartet which follows is one of only two of Bacewicz’s quartets that appear in more than three movements. A much more pensive work than the opening quartet on this disc, the first theme is introduced by the entire ensemble, which presents it piecemeal, giving a hint of the masterful interweaving that will come later.

The second movement is a thoroughly enjoyable fugue with Shostakovich-like elements and a good deal of sarcasm. Again the Amar Corde quartet does an admirable job at effortlessly throwing the melodic line between the various instrumental parts.

The disc closes with the second piano quintet, composed in 1965. The first quintet, which appears on AP0019 and which I have reviewed earlier, is a wonderfully realized work. The piece on this disc, composed ten years later, begins more ominously, growing into a more outwardly aggressive work than its predecessor. Less studied, it is a far more self-assured piece, though somewhat less immediately accessible. As with the rest of Bacewicz’s output further attention reaps great rewards. The demands on the ensemble are greater in that their roles are more interchangeable — the voice of the piece must shine through over countless handoffs. The variety of sound Bacewicz draws from the ensemble is far wider as well — far less evocative of other composers, and far more indicative of her own compositional voice.

Bacewicz occasionally quotes herself; not nearly as often as Prokofiev and not as insistently as Shostakovich, but certainly with intent. Her motives aren’t as heavily symbolic as Shostakovich — they remain rather enigmatic — but here she quotes a segment from her Partita for Violin and Piano of 1955. From what I’ve been able to see, a recording of this partita is currently unavailable. I look forward to hearing it from this label, which has done such a consistently good job with this series.

Poland holds great riches, both in its musical history, but also in its future with great performers. It is my hope to hear far more of the Amar Corde quartet and also from Acte Préalable, which continues to impress with the quality of its releases.

David Blomenberg

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