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Krzysztof MEYER (b.1943)
Piano Quartet, Op.112 (2009) * [24:34]
Piano Quintet, Op.76 (1991) [40:05]
Silesian String Quartet
Piotr Sałajczyk (piano)
rec. Concert Hall of the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music, Katowice, 8-9 September 2013 and 3-5 November 2013. DDD.
* World Premičre Recording
NAXOS 8.573357 [64:45]

Naxos have recorded four volumes of Meyer’s String Quartets, all with the Wieniawski Quartet: 8.570776 (Nos. 5, 6 and 8); 8.572656 (Nos. 9, 11 and 12); 8.573001 (Nos. 7, 10 and 13) and 8.573165 (Nos. 1-4). Reviewing the last of these, Byzantion aptly characterised Quartets 1-4 as what we might have expected Bartók to have produced had he lived another 25 years – review. Make that another 50 years and assume a Bartók who had mellowed a little with age but was still capable of writing powerful music and that also applies to these two more recent works. Throw in the influence of Meyer’s teacher Penderecki and you won’t be too far off the mark.

The short notes on the back cover of the CD describe the one-movement Piano Quartet, here receiving its first recording, as alternating elegy, threnody and caprice and that’s a pretty apt description of what we have. I liked a great deal of it but I have to admit that there were several passages where the style drifted dangerously close to that of Penderecki for my comfort. On the other hand there are times when I felt as much at home as in listening to the quartets of Shostakovich, whom Meyer befriended in the 1960s and 70s and on whom he wrote a monograph (1973, revised 1994).

The longer Piano Quintet also combines a variety of styles. The notes seek to place it in a tradition dating back to Brahms but here again there were many sections where I felt very close to the edge of my comfort zone and I’m sure that Brahms would have felt completely perplexed. Repeated hearing sometimes helps to come to terms with unfamiliar music but on this occasion I didn’t find that to be a help – and I’ve been trying on and off for some time, which is why this review has been somewhat delayed. I shall, however, try again.

If you too are a little ambiguous about some contemporary music, I recommend that you try to sample at length if you can – that’s where it’s very convenient to subscribe to Naxos Music Library, or Qobuz, all of which for a reasonable fee allow unlimited streaming. If you don’t mind the ads, there’s always the free Spotify. Otherwise, if you’re not sure where my dividing line lies, I adore Messiaen’s music but I’m perplexed by that of his erstwhile student Boulez. Some of Meyer’s music is as exhilarating as Messiaen but too much reminds me of Le Marteau sans Maître orPli selon pli and even occasionally, I’m sorry to say, at the risk of offending some sensibilities, of Gerard Hoffnung’s spoof Bruno Heinz Jaja’s Punkt Contrapunkt.

I also tried listening to Meyer’s Complete Works for Cello and Piano, performed by Evva Mizerska (cello) with Emma Abate and Katarzyna Glensk (piano) on Toccata TOCC0098, as streamed from Qobuz. Those who, like me, prefer to tread softly in approaching contemporary composers may find that a more amenable place to start. Bob Briggs thought this essential listening – review – and though it took me to some strange places, I went more willingly than in the case of the Piano Quartet and Quintet.

Reservations about the tougher aspects of both works apart, the performances are first-rate, with all concerned coping very well with the complexities of the music: the Silesian Quartet are well known for their vigorous renditions of this sort of music. It’s all very well recorded, with the rather close ambiance well suited to the immediacy of much of the music, though also allowing for the more reflective moments to make their effect.

Richard Whitehouse’s notes are a model of objective information. You won’t, however, really get an idea from them of the actual appeal – or otherwise – of the music.

Despite all my reservations about the music – none about the performances and recording – this CD will have a wide appeal.

Brian Wilson

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