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Krzysztof BACULEWSKI (b. 1950)
String Quartet No. 1 (1984) [8:40]
String Quartet No. 2 (1985) [19:44]
String Quartet No. 3 (1986) [10:22]
String Quartet No. 4 (2014) [26:05]
Tana String Quartet
rec. 2017, The Concert Hall of the Krzysztof Penderecki European Centre for Music, Lusławice, Poland
DUX 1238 [64:56]

This is the third disc of the music of Krzysztof Baculewski to be released by Dux, the others, the Works for Orchestra (DUX 0725) and the Choral Works (DUX 0769), have both previously been reviewed in these pages, with each of the discs sharing a theme in the artwork, each depicting columns and in this case capitals.

This disc presents what is, at the moment, the composer’s complete oeuvre for string quartet. The first three were composed over a short period of time and make up a symmetrical cycle; the larger, four movement String Quartet No. 2 is sandwiched by short, single movement quartets. The single movement First String Quartet of 1984 is a work of contrasts, opening very quietly and tentatively before the second theme enters with a bang. The second theme is more rhythmic than melodic, its strong pulsing tones giving it an almost aggressive feel. This eases slightly in the central section where the upper strings play the main theme while the cello occasionally interjects with short aggressive outbursts.

The String Quartet No 2 followed a year later and, despite its four movements, is one long musical landscape. It opens with short pulses before the first main theme enters; this is interspersed with the occasional pulse before the second theme enters with its swirling music, which is interrupted by sharp plucking of the strings over the theme. The second, shortest movement begins with a pizzicato theme with only occasional bowed sections. The notes describe the movement as “brief and funny”, but I fail to find the humour, especially as the music morphs into the slow third movement. It takes the bowed theme of the second movement and develops it into an almost hypnotic section, in which even the occasional plucking of the strings does not affect the overall calm, meditative feeling. The final movement grows out of the third, and is inspired by Chopin’s B flat minor Sonata; its slow opening linking opening soon gives way to a more frenzied, suspenseful theme resembling something from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. This theme ends with a more broken section; but despite this, the suspense remains. There is some nice interplay here between the players of the quartet, especially in the unison passages between the violin and viola, and the masterful solo cello part is quite effective.

The following year saw the composition of the single movement String Quartet No. 3, which concludes the cyclical and symmetrical cycle of string quartets, it would be another twenty-eight years before the Fourth would appear. The Third is in seven sections and opens with a high sustained note under which the cello plays single plucked notes and a short viola phrase, before developing into a second theme based upon unison playing. The second section is more animated and, in total contrast to the first, as the tempo rises, we are introduced to other contrasting sections in which the music swells and develops through different styles including sections of pizzicato playing. The seventh and final section acts as a coda as it brings together all the main themes of the preceding sections in this short conclusion to the work.

We had to wait a long time for what is, at the moment, the fourth and final quartet – until 2014, in fact. Despite this delay, the Quartet clearly follows on from the previous three, employing some of the same techniques used earlier. The repetitions of notes and pulses used in the previous three are once again used in the opening of the first movement Allegro moderato, although here it is designed to begin over the noise of the audience as they settle for the performance “so that the music emerges over the dying noise.” This is followed by the shortest movement of the Quartet, the Adagio. Its almost anguished main theme is held by the first violin and cello and played over the plucked notes of the second violin and viola. The third movement, marked Animato, seems gradually to grow out of the slow music of the second movement, and is in variation form, the three sections gradually becoming more ‘animated’. The final movement begins with a glissando which sets the scene for this movement as it is a repeated device throughout the movement, and is set against various sections of pizzicato and bowed music. The effect is quite telling, especially in the almost neo-classical central section. The final section is a coda, which not only brings together the thematic material of this string quartet, but, by also referencing the main theme of the Second Quartet, also links this work with the earlier cycle of three quartets.

The music presented here is modern and never less than interesting; indeed, it is often enthralling and holds your attention throughout, I often found myself repeatedly hitting the replay button so that I could listen again to particular phrases and movements. The Tana String Quartet’s performance is excellent; their playing is a major factor in the enjoyment of this occasionally challenging music. The way that they shape particular sections clearly helps to display Krzysztof Baculewski’s musical ideas and phraseology. The recorded sound and booklet are also very good, making this disc a must for all followers of the modern string quartet idiom.

Stuart Sillitoe

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