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aBritish Symphonies
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W.S. Bennett, Rootham, Moeran,
Bax, Rubbra, Rawsthorne, Berkeley
Alwyn, Grace Williams, Arnold, Wordsworth. Searle, Joubert


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Maciej MALECKI (b.1940)
The Dream of Frédéric [10:21]
String Quartet No. 1 [14:22]
String Quartet No. 2 [15:15]
String Quartet No. 3 [11:54]
Opium Quartet
rec. 24 January, 10 April, 1 August 2012, Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw
ACTE PRÉALABLE APO268 [51:53]


 
Maciej Malecki starred in one of my 2011 Recordings of the Year, which featured his folksy Polish Suite for string quartet and a mini-concerto for viola. Those two works fall fairly easily on the ear, being mainly melodic and no more “challenging” than, say, Szymanowski or other music from early last century. The Dream of Frédéric is like that here: a rousing remix of tunes by Chopin, but the three string quartets are more austere and modern, with neoclassical structures but colder, darker languages.
 
The Third Quartet, just twelve minutes long, might be the best-formed; it has real momentum and emotional gravity, as its themes, maybe a little like early Lutoslawski, fulfill the roles of traditional classical forms but in dark, subversive ways. The First and Second are in a style of generic “modernism” that’s less to my liking: they’re episodic, too much so, often fixating on sonic effects and textures rather than the through-line. On the other hand there’s The Dream of Frédéric, which is meant to be like Chopin having a feverish dream where his themes come back to him in strange new ways, and it succeeds spectacularly in that aim. The Chopin tunes (from a prelude, waltz, and etude) are woven together in surprisingly effective fashion, into a sort of fantastical dream-quilt.
 
So this is the kind of CD where I’m glad to have heard some of the pieces, and less glad to know others. Listeners with different tastes, especially those with a greater tolerance for stronger, darker brews than I like, may feel the same way. The Opium Quartet is as good an ensemble as they were on their debut recording, despite changing first violinists. Very much for the adventurous explorer of contemporary music, although my favorite Malecki is on the earlier album.
 
Brian Reinhart