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Marcin Murawski (viola), Kamil Babka (viola), Jakub Gutowski (violin), Hanna Holeska (piano)
rec. December 2015/April 2016, I.J. Paderewski Academy of Music, Poznan, Poland

I’m not sure if there’s a collective noun for a disc of Passacaglias – a ‘movement’ perhaps or a variation, possibly – but the word derives from pasar, Spanish for ‘to move’ and calle, or street. Though it was Frescobaldi who largely formulated the passacaglia in the form which we now know it – a series of variations on a figured bass – the medium has continued to be the message for composers up to the present day. This disc contains two such contemporary examples and delves back to Biber’s 1674 Passacaglia to give historical context to this 70-minute recital.

Violist Marcin Murawski is one of two violists and his Biber performance is to a degree informed by historical performance practice by virtue of his awareness of harmonics and articulation. I assume it’s his own viola transcription. For Halvorsen’s famous Passacaglia from Handel’s keyboard suite he cedes viola responsibilities to Kamil Babka, who’s partnered by violist Jakub Gutowski. There are a few trifling exaggerations along the way by the violinist and the pizzicato episode could be faster, more defined and dramatic. The playing in alt also sounds iffy. Babka also plays Hindemith’s piece, which is in fact the final part of his Op.11 No.5 Sonata in what sounds a more resonant acoustic though it’s actually the same location. The baroque and twentieth-century elements in the movement are held in perfect equipoise.

Rebecca Clarke’s Passacaglia on an Old English Tune, for which Murawski is joined for the only time by pianist Hanna Holeska, sports an intensely passionate central panel and it’s less threnodic than usual on disc and more a kind of anguished self-immolation. The recording here is cold, the piano sounding clangy in fortes and Murawski’s viola brittle.

It’s interesting to hear Alfred Pochon’s much less well-known Passacaglia for solo viola. It starts like Bach’s Chaconne but proves a sectional, diverting and highly effective piece, full of colour and direction. Pochon was a Swiss composer and won a prize in Geneva in 1942 for this work. I’d not come across Gordon Jacob’s piece either. It was written in 1948 and brief sleuthing shows it was first performed by violinist Frederick Grinke and violist Bernard Shore. There are hints of the Halvorsen in the Prelude – which Grinke would have played with his viola partner Max Gilbert, so maybe this was something of an in-joke – but the central Passacaglia is the richest and most resonant movement of the three.

Composed in 2016 specifically for this recording, Paweł Michałowski’s Lullaby Passacaglia is an appropriately gentle piece with an appealing thrummed pizzicato lyricism, and the Canadian Samuel Bisson is represented by his piece for viola and loop. Originally composed for cello in 2007, this viola arrangement is a world première recording. Canonic and employing loop stations, it’s an attractive piece.

This release has good notes from Murawski but inconsistent recording quality.

Jonathan Woolf

Disc contents

Heinrich Ignaz Franz von BIBER (1644-1704)
Rosary Sonatas: Passacaglia (1674) [11:55]
Johann HALVORSEN (1864-1935)
Passacaglia for violin and viola based on the finale of Handel’s Harpsichord Suite in G minor, HWV432 (1893) [6:45]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
In Form und Zeitmas einer Passacaglia (1919) [13:45]
Rebecca CLARKE (1886-1979)
Passacaglia on an Old English Tune (1941) [6:10]
Alfred POCHON (1878-1959)
Passacaglia for viola solo (1942) [7:45]
Gordon JACOB (1895-1984)
Prelude, Passacaglia and Fugue for violin and viola (1948) [9:28]
Paweł MICHAŁOWSKI (b.1990)
Lullaby Passacaglia for viola solo (2016) [4:17]
Samuel BISSON (b.1984)
Passacaglia for viola and loop (2015) [9:28]


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