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Grażyna BACEWICZ (1909-1969)
String Quartet No. 4 (1950) [21:26]
String Quartet No. 6 (1960) [16:46]
String Quartet No. 7 (1965) [16:15]
Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet
rec. 1991, Studio 3, Bayerischen Rundfunks München, Germany
TROUBADISC TRO-CD01404 [55:09]

In recent years, the music of Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz has received some excellent, high-profile recordings, some of which have won awards. However, here we have a ground-breaking disc. Originally released in 1992, it is described in the booklet as the ‘2nd Edition: 2019, Mastering: Christoph Stickel’; I am not sure if that means that the disc has been re-mastered, but the recording sounds detailed, clean and bright.

Of all Bacewicz’ music, it is perhaps the string quartets which have been best served on disc by three versions of the complete recordings: the award-winning Silesian Quartet (CHAN 10904(2)), the Lutosławski Quartet (8.572806, 8.572807) and the Amar Corde Quartet on Acte Préalable - but I am unsure whether the latter is still available. Add to this the handful who offer one quartet, usually the Fourth, and that aspect of her music is well represented in the catalogues. As to the rest of her output, more and more recordings are gradually appearing.

The disc opens with the String Quartet No, 4 of 1950, which is perhaps the best known of all of Bacewicz’s works and is certainly the most recorded. It was her breakthrough composition in the West, after it won the Liège Composition Competition in 1951. It is a taut work, set in three movements and is here given a very good performance. The first movement is in four sections - slow-fast-moderate-fast- and is quite intense as it expertly weaves its way through the changes in tempo. This is followed by a more traditional slow movement which contains some passionate music; here, the Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet are over a minute slower that the award-winning recording by the Silesian Quartet, showing some impressive tonal control. The final Allegro giocoso is a real allegro, its spirited music rewarded with equally spirited playing which is halted by the short slow section before the joyful giocoso section emerges with some nice pizzicato playing and rushes headlong to the end.

The String Quartet No. 6 dates from ten years later and is quite different in that it occupies a much darker and modern sound-world than the Fourth. Like the earlier quartet, it opens with a slow, quiet section which brings an edge of tension. That tension continues in the intervening Allegro section which contains some nice use of both portamento as well as the bow bouncing on the string, before returning to the slow music again. The short Vivace follows almost immediately and maintains the modern, almost atonal approach. This is followed by the true slow movement, a Grave, and shows once again the great control of the Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet, as the movement begins very quietly and slowly. While it has a sense of sadness it also feels quite calm, even serene. This serenity gives way to the final flourish with its sense of perpetuum mobile, as the final blusters it way along its path, only to be interrupted with short sections of bleaker music more reminiscent of the earlier movements, before concluding with a sense of optimism.

The final work on this disc, and the composer’s final quartet, No. 7, dates from 1965 and returns to a three-movement structure. It is the only one of the three presented here not to begin slowly, its Allegro beginning moderately quickly. As with the writing of No. 6, there are some uneasy passages in the music, but again there is some clever use of pizzicato which gives way to brighter, more conventional music. The second movement is marked Grave, and lives up to its billing, with some stratospheric high notes on the violins matched by descending sliding scales; this, coupled with the almost percussive low cello beats, adds real tension. The final Con vivezza could not be more different, as it combines a sense of humour with a more optimistic feeling to the conclusion of the quartet and Bacewicz’ quartet-writing as a whole.

The performance of the Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet is particularly good, comparing well with the performance of the Silesian Quartet on Chandos. Tempos, apart from the Andante of No. 4, are quite similar, although the Silesian Quartet would get my vote if only because they offer all seven quartets. The sound is also very good: clean and bright with a nice acoustic but the more modern sound of the Silesian Quartet recording gives it a slight edge. The booklet essay by Hartmut Lück offers an interesting insight into the composer and her music.

This is a very good recording of three of Grazyna Bacewicz’s string quartets and I am more than happy to give it shelf room.

Stuart Sillitoe



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