Zygmunt KRAUZE (b. 1938)
Hommage à Strzemiński
Polychromy (1968) [4:33]
Piece for Orchestra No 1 (1969) [8:51]
String Quartet No 2 (1970) [15:56]
Tableau vivant (1982) [10:19]
String Quartet No 3 (1982) [20:51]
Piece for Orchestra No 2 (1970) [9:22]
Polychromy [4:20]
Music Workshop (Polychromy, rec. 1969)
National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Tamayo (Piece for Orchestra No 1, rec. 2000)
Silesian String Quartet (rec. 1994)
Sinfonia Varsovia/Jan Krenz (Tableau vivant, rec. 1991)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, an ensemble of roc berlin/Andrzej Markowski (Piece for Orchestra No 2, 1974)
gnarwhallaby (Polychromy, rec. 2014)
rec. venues, details not given
DUX 1207 [74:25]
I raved about the last DUX/Bolt release of the music of Zygmunt Krauze (review), and wasn’t slow in requesting this subsequent release for review. The Hommage title had me looking up the name Władysław Strzemiński, who was a Polish avant-garde painter who formulated a theory of Unism, or Unizm in Polish in the 1920s. These Unistic paintings inspired Zygmunt Krauze to create Unistic compositions. Extended quotes from Strzemiński’s Unism in Painting reveals something about the connection between the works on this CD to Strzemiński’s thinking. “A unified picture is not a clash of shapes, it is not a drama, but it is, like every organism, a unanimous action of all its parts … Every element of its construction: line, colour, texture – pursues the common end but each of them does it in its appropriate way.” Krauze by turn explains his response to these paintings in the way they taught him form in music, that “a piece of music begins at a certain moment, a certain moment in time. And that moment must expose the whole work at once, from the very start. That moment must show all the elements of the work, and later, during its duration, which may actually be any given length, nothing essentially new happens.” This point of view surmounts for instance “the problem of contrast in Baroque music … things [such as tonality] that dominate over one another.”

Polychromy was the first of Krauze’s works written according to these principles, its slowly unfolding interaction of limited number of notes creating a sense of atmosphere, but its shape and direction moving through time on a single plane. Piece for Orchestra No. 1 develops this idea with the expanded sonic pallet of a full orcherstra to create a quite magical effect. Krauze writes of this piece that “I demand that my music is peaceful and organised … the performed piece orders time. Out of the chaos of human activities and sounds that surround people, it separates a a segment of a well-defined structure.” This is the ‘dead silence’ of a desert, Krauze comparing it to the location of Masada in Israel, the tragic scene of siege now a place of absolute silence.

String Quartet No. 2 is relatively dynamic, its premise derived from mathematical calculations – the proportions of each segment related to prime numbers. This is a fascinating combination of the Unistic in terms of form, allied to serial techniques that inform the treatment of the musical material at every level. Periods of stillness and slow movement are affected by the ‘ripple-effect’ of the music’s development, almost like interference patterns on still waters. There is contrast, but the differences between more intense moments and the surrounding musical space are the result of web-like relationships rather than the initiation of actual change.

Tableau vivant is “a piece about silence, fear, anger and pertinacity.” It’s initial idea came about on December 13th 1981, the day on which martial law was announced in Poland. The homogenous Unistic form in this case is “a slow march of the defeated and the suffering but strong and full of faith at the same time.” This is a strange piece whose vertical cluster-like chords advance and recede; etiolated like fence posts, at times with colours of aggression, elsewhere quiet and vanishing.

String Quartet No. 3 is the longest of the works in this programme, but has the most compact formal basis. It has four segments, each concluded with a cadenza from the cello, viola and two violins respectively. The single motif from which the music is built is clear from the outset, one commentator describing each segment as being “like four sisters: alike but of different characters.” These characters are by turns intense and driven, still and distant, eloquent and passionate, and toward the conclusion almost lyrical.

Piece for Orchestra No. 2 is a further exploration of Unistic composition, this time using silence as an important element, but also creating a remarkably rich and romantic sound from the orchestra. The instruments are divided into seven groups spread over the stage, and this spatial aspect also adds to the development of remarkable sonorities, but for me the spectres of Brahms and Richard Strauss also hover over this elusive but potent music. To finish the programme there is another more recently recorded version of Polychromy. This performance by ensemble gnarwhallaby has a little more sophistication than the 1968 tape, but an intriguing difference in character, one that almost points to Krauze as having a distant relationship to someone like Webern – from whom a single bar of music has been plucked and transformed into an entirely new realm of elongation.

The recordings are inevitably a little variable in quality for this release, the earliest Polychromy suffering a little from left/right ‘flutter’ with its old but reasonably effectively restored tape. Piece for Orchestra No. 2 has an unusual balance but this has to be a side-effect of the placement of the instrumental groups, the recording perhaps a little on the thin side but still good. Piece for Orchestra No. 1 is the most ‘live’ sounding with occasional coughs but still in a decent recording. No disrespect, but I would love to hear these produced by one of the big labels. Zygmunt Krauze’s music in this Unistic mode is abstract, but filled with enigmatic beauty. The mood and atmosphere of this Hommage to Strzemiński is different to the more lively concertos album, but none the less intriguing and stimulating for all that. These works are not all ‘easy’, but do show another unique place from which we can find that ‘endless awe’ shared for instance in the works of Morton Feldman – entirely distinctive in terms of voice but each sharing bounty as boundless as the sea, for both are infinite.

Dominy Clements

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