Grażyna BACEWICZ (1909 – 1969)
Concerto for String Orchestra (1948) [14:38]
Symphony for String Orchestra (1946) [23:44]
Piano Quintet No. 1 (version for chamber orchestra by Mariusz Smolij) (1952/2013) [26:49]
Ewa Kupiec (piano)
Capella Bydgostiensis Chamber Orchestra/Mariusz Smolij
rec. Pomeranian Philharmonic hall, Bydgoszcz, Poland, 2013 NAXOS 8.573229 [65:11]
Grażyna Bacewicz was one of the pioneers in making Polish music an integrated part of the contemporary European music scene. As a matter of fact several Polish musicians after the war became forerunners. Names like Lutosławski, Kilar, Gorecki and Penderecki reached a position that motivated the epithet ‘the Polish wonder’ in the 1960s and it hasn’t ebbed away yet. Grażyna Bacewicz was four years older than the doyen of the group mentioned above, Witold Lutosławski. She was in the forefront even before the war, as a composer and violinist. A scholarship from the legendary Jan Paderewski made it possible for her to go to Paris and study with Nadia Boulanger. That way she also had her first contacts with the international musical circuit, which was important for her efforts after the war to involve Poland in the European cooperative. The political climate in Poland, and behind the iron curtain in general, at the time was a problem and she devoted most of her time to composing. After 1954, when she was seriously injured in a car accident, composing became her only occupation. The three works on this disc are all from the years immediately after the end of the war.
The award-winning Concerto for String Orchestra (1948) is regarded as one of her most important works. It should also be a good starting point for those who want to penetrate Bacewicz’s world. She is a composer that is difficult, even impossible to pigeon-hole. She never gets stuck in a formula but adjusts her methods depending on the situation. In 1956, after the first International Festival of Contemporary Music in Warsaw, known as the Warsaw Autumn, she wrote: ‘I disagree with those who maintain that once a composer develops her own style, she should stick to it. I find such an opinion totally alien; it impedes further development and growth. Every composition completed today will belong to the past tomorrow.’ This also signals a wish to expand her register and find new ways. What she had written up until then – during the decade after the war – could be described as neo-classical. Even though she wouldn’t agree with this classification, it is a practical tag that will not be found too wide of the mark.
The tag for this concerto reads ‘Baroque concerto grosso’. The first movement is playful and vital as befits the model and the pulsating rhythms emphasize the sense of irresistible power and energy. The second movement, Andante, begins almost inaudibly with divided strings (in 17 parts at one point), from which a solo cello emerges. The serious and husked mood is replaced by a lively vivo finale, rhythmically vigorous with a couple of resting points, where solo viola and solo violin are featured. The whole composition is brief, concentrated and really enjoyable – and it makes you want more.
You get more in the shape of the Symphony for String Orchestra from two years earlier. This is also a rather compact work and the first movement radiates the same amount of vitality and optimist as the Concerto. Here the composer has gathered energy from the very fact that the war has come to an end and the occupation – a double occupation in fact – is over. The Adagio is serene and meditative but in the middle of the movement there is a passage with more agitated feelings. The Allegretto is airy and carefree with a Let’s dance-feeling. A ticking accompaniment seems to mark the passing of time. The concluding Theme and variations, the longest movement, offers ever-changing moods, rhythms and structures.
Bacewicz wrote her first piano quintet in 1952 and it marks her striving away from the neo-classicism of the 1940s towards a more radical tonal language. This version for chamber orchestra by Mariusz Smolij was created in 2013 and here receives its first recording.
A sombre opening is followed by a dramatic allegro that towards the end returns to the darkness of the opening. An oberek, a Polish folk-dance, is the basis for the presto, which also contains a duet between piano and violin. The grave third movement is a funeral march, growing in intensity along the way. The piano introduces a middle section, chorale-like, which reaches a climax before returning to the funeral march which gradually dies away. The passionate finale opens with a fugato and then the piano presents a lyrical second theme. Textures are frequently thick and this is no doubt reinforced when played by a full string orchestra. The overall effect is rather massive. Of the three works on the disc the piano quintet is the most relentlessly forward-looking.
It is good that Naxos now features the music of Grazyna Bacewicz with this excellent recording. I hope that a Bacewicz renaissance under the way. Naxos has already given notice of a series with her complete string quartets. While waiting for that, the present disc is a recommendable starting-point for a broader appreciation of the art of one of the foremost representatives of “the Polish wonder”.