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Roman PALESTER (1907-1989)
String Quartet No. 2 (1936) [31:10]
String Quartet No. 3 (1942-1944, rev. 1974) [30:16]
Karol SZYMANOWSKI (1882-1937)
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 56 (1927) [18:03]
Apollon Musagète Quartet
rec. March (Szymanowski) and June-July (Palester) 2017, Witold Lutosławski Polish Radio Concert Studio, Warsaw
UNIVERSAL 4816901 [79:45]

The renewal of interest in the music of Roman Palester continues to be a gratifying feature of the current catalogue. His emigration from Poland was looked on with disfavour in his native country and it was only in 1977 that the ban on his music there was rescinded. Recent months have seen the arrival of splendid new discs of his music from RecArt and Polskie Nagrania which explore his piano, vocal and instrumental music. Acte Préalable has been promoting his flute works for almost a decade as well. Now Universal chips in with his second and third quartets, situating them in the context of the work of his great predecessor, Szymanowski. Palester’s first quartet, regrettably, is no longer extant; it was destroyed during the Second World War.

His Second Quartet of 1936 evokes the folkloric influences that permeate much of his earlier music, elements of which here are directly derived from Szymanowski, not least in the sonorities he promotes. There is also an eruptive element at work, crisply powerful, that also rather reflects the influence of Bartók’s quartets. The heart of this through-composed (but multi-tracked) quartet is the Lento, a near-ten-minute movement of lyrical introspection that also invites more urgent gestures to act as contrastive material. Moving straight to a resinous folk dance is both vivid and exciting and whilst the penultimate section, a Presto, may seem rather more conventional, the concluding Lento returns the listener to the static repose of the opening paragraphs in a kind of cyclical journey.

The 1942-44 Third Quartet is a very different affair, which Palester revised many years later in 1974. In four distinct movements it still embraces elements of Szymanowski’s heritage but more overtly striking an expressionist stance and with strong Bergian influences. Twilit lyricism is a potent element of Palester’s musical armoury, as here, but so too is pungent and taut writing, as in the Scherzo, where aggression is always balanced by a refined cultivation of colour. In the slow movement the measured, meditative writing is almost aloof, expressing a numbed kind of response, which the finale extrapolates by presenting vehemence that teeters on the abyss in a truly ambiguous ending.

This quartet reveal the distance Palester had travelled from the pre-war work; retaining strong elements of his Polish inheritance it had subsequently been suffused with prevailing currents to create a much more complex sound world, with a more unsettled feel – not unsurprisingly, given the circumstances.

The Apollon Musagète Quartet play both works with riveting direction and a sense of the very different narratives at work. They pay similar care to Szymanowski’s Second Quartet of 1927; pizzicati are strong and unanimous, the timbral qualities reflect the incisive drama of the writing, and the result is a reading of terse but sympathetic intensity.

Thus far, as noted, Palester’s representation on disc is small, albeit growing, and this well-recorded release makes a splendid case for the quartets.

Jonathan Woolf

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