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Grażyna BACEWICZ (1909-1969)
Sonata no. 4 (1949) [17:54]
Kolysanka (Lullaby) (1952) [2:19]
Melodia (Melody) (1946) [2:48]
Partita (1955) [14:30]
Concertino (1945) [4:47]
Kaprys (Caprice) (1946) [1:46]
Oberek (1951) [1:46]
Sonata da camera (1945) [12:32]
Taniec mazowiecki (Mazovian Dance) (1951) [3:04]
Bartlomiej Nizioł (violin); Paweł Mazurkiewicz (piano)
rec. June 2004, Bydgoszcz Concert Hall, Poland.
DUX 0486 [61:27]

Grażyna Bacewicz was herself a considerable violinist; indeed she was also a good pianist. Her writing for the violin often shows her at something like her best. She wrote seven violin concertos, sonatas for solo violin and several sonatas for violin and piano, as well as a good number of short pieces for the same combination of instruments. This attractive recital presents a selection of such works, very ably performed, though in an acoustic which is perhaps a little on the resonant side.
The programme of the present CD is made up of works written between 1945 and 1955. By then Bacewicz’s early influences, notably those of Szymanowski and the French neo-classicists she heard when studying in Paris in the 1930s (with Boulanger), had been integrated into an idiom which, while it might reasonably be described as neoclassical, was decidedly individual, in part because of the subtlety with which she incorporates echoes of Polish folk music.
The works played by Nizioł and Mazurkiewicz fall fairly readily into two categories. The Sonata no 4, the Partita and the Sonata da camera are works of fair substance, relatively complex and developed structures; otherwise we are treated (and it is a treat) to a programme of what are essentially miniatures.
The Fourth Sonata has been relatively widely performed of late. It is dedicated to the composer’s brother Kiejstut, and won First Prize at the Warsaw Festival of Polish Music in 1951. Brother and sister recorded the piece in the early 1950s (Polskie Nagrana – Muza XV-72), a performance which I haven’t, unfortunately, ever been able to hear. The work’s four movements explore a wide emotional range and this, plus its formal individuality, make the epithet “neo-classical” inadequate. Indeed, the CD’s annotator Tomas Jeż speaks of the work as “neo-Romantic”. Nizioł and Mazurkiewicz do justice to the aggressive phrasing of parts of the opening movement; in the succeeding andante the piano writing at the lower end of the keyboard and some delicate melodic lines on the violin combine to sombre, almost mysterious effect. As Jeż suggests, there is a slightly grotesque quality to the scherzo, an edgy intensity which also has a comic dimension; the final movement (marked ‘con passione’) develops two contrasting themes, sonata-like, and is not without both seriousness and virtuosity. This really is a very fine piece, and it gets a good performance here.
The Partita is made up of four movements, all intriguing and forceful. In the Preludium, a melody played by the violinist shifts through a number of tonal centres, with the pianist providing insistent ostinatos behind it. The Toccata drives hard, at times almost violently, while the altogether gentler – and strikingly beautiful – Intermezzo is built around a deceptively simple violin melody which Bacewicz had previously used in her Cello Concerto of 1951. The energetic Rondo which closes the Partita has its fair shares of technical challenges, and Nizioł and Mazurkiewicz surmount them pretty well. The Sonata da camera, the earliest piece here and sometimes known as Sonata 1, is perhaps less fully individual; the baroque-indebted largo (pleasant as it is) and the eminently danceable gigue which open and close the work sit just a little awkwardly with the much more Szymanowski-influenced movements which they frame. This is a piece, played with intelligence and commitment by Nizioł and Mazurkiewicz, which is perhaps best appreciated for what it tells us of Bacewicz’s development as a composer, rather than for its own unremarkable merits.
The miniatures which fill out the programme served as display pieces for Bacewicz the violinist. Kolysanka (Lullaby) is a charming piece, with overtones of French impressionism; Melodia (Melody) is a miniature sonata movement, with a distinctively Polish feel in its modal harmonies; Kaprys (Caprice) feels rather dry alongside much else on the Cd, cleverly put together but a little short on feeling; Oberek and Taniec mazowiecki (Mazovian Dance), on the other hand, are vivacious works in the long established tradition of the ‘classical’ appropriation of national dances. Oberek, in particular, conveys very vividly the spinning movement of the traditional dance which gives it its title.
Bacewicz seems to me to still be seriously underrated; as such, this CD, which gives the listener the opportunity to hear two sides of her character as a composer of music for this one combination of instruments, deserves a warm welcome.
Glyn Pursglove


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