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Grażyna BACEWICZ (1909-1969)
Complete Violin Sonatas
Sonata for violin and piano No. 5 (1951) [13:28]
Sonata for violin and piano No. 3 (1947) [17:14]
Sonata for violin and piano No. 1 Sonata da Camera (1945) [12:25]
Sonata for solo violin No. 2 (1958) [10:56]
Partita for violin and piano [13:54]
Sonata for violin and piano No. 2 (1946) [15:26]
Sonata for solo violin No. 1 (1941) [22:43]
Sonata for violin and piano No. 4 (1949) [19:22]
Annabelle Berthomé-Reynolds (violin)
Ivan Donchev (piano)
rec. 2018, Krzyszytof Pendercki Hall, Lusławice, Poland
Detailed listing below review
MUSO MU-032 [54:04 + 71:15]

The Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz has been coming increasingly prominent over the last few years. Her violin concertos, string quartets and other chamber music have all been recorded and well received and now we have her violin sonatas. The violin was her own instrument, and for some years she combined composing with performing on the violin, initially as an orchestral player and latterly as a soloist in her own works. She gave up playing the violin in public shortly after a car accident in 1954 and thereafter concentrated on composition. However, she had previously composed a considerable body of works for solo violin or violin and piano, and there is also a good deal of juvenilia, not included here.

There are five sonatas for violin and piano, two for solo violin and the Partita for violin and piano, her last work in this medium. They all show throughout her thorough knowledge of the instrument and its potential. She had also studied the piano, although she did not play it professionally. Most of these works she premiered with her brother Kiesjstut playing the piano parts. She had studied composition with Nadia Boulanger, and her works show the skilful craftsmanship associated with that teaching, and also the expected influences of Stravinsky and Bartók. I fancy I also occasionally hear echoes of the violin music of Enescu and her compatriot Szymanowski, but Bacewicz is her own woman and you can also hear her developing her craft as you go through these works. You can summarise her idiom as mainstream twentieth century but not aggressively dissonant. She usually gives quite different material to the two instruments. She particularly likes to spin a long lyrical and chromatic line on the violin with quite percussive piano parts.

Her works are not here presented in chronological order, but as they might be in one or two recitals, and I shall discuss them in that order. We open with the fifth violin and piano sonata, her last. You notice immediately the assured writing, with a rhapsodic opening leading to a vigorous Allegro. There is a short Nokturn in which the violin sings a short, sweet and sad melody, before a Finale which sets off fiercely in a search for peace, eventually found in the high treble. But this cannot be sustained, and the work ends in an angry and defiant mood.

The third violin and piano sonata which follows is in four movements, with a first movement which is more light-hearted than the previous work and also more obviously virtuosic, occasionally touched by folk-like motifs. In the Adagio, the violin weaves one of Bacewicz’s characteristically sinuous chromatic lines over the jagged rocks of the piano. Then there is an apparently jaunty but actually rather sinister Scherzo and a Finale which finds its way to a big tune on the violin before settling for something more argumentative.

The first sonata for violin and piano is subtitled Sonata da Camera and is in five movements with a beautiful opening with a long lyrical line, a Stravinskian allegro, a graceful minuet, a playful Andante and a final Gigue, again Stravinskian.

We then have her second sonata for solo violin. This is chronologically the last work here and is a bold, modernist piece, with one long, slow movement and two short, quick ones, somewhat hermetic but deeply impressive.

The second disc opens with the Partita, the first work Bacewicz wrote after her car accident. She also made an orchestral version of it. There are four strongly contrasted movements. In the opening Preludium, a pounding piano supports a sombre, highly chromatic violin melody. The following Toccata is brittle, spiky, full of syncopation and surprises. A short Intermezzo is melancholy and apparently somewhat self-revealing. The final Rondo is cheerful and playful.

The first sonata for solo violin is the earliest work here, though not the first she had written for this demanding medium. It is in four movements and, not surprisingly, it shows the influence of Bach, but in a contemporary but not abrasive idiom. Its lean and sinewy writing is very impressive, and, indeed, both these solo sonatas are rewarding additions to a small repertoire.

The fourth sonata for violin and piano was described by a friend as ‘contemporary Brahms’ though it did not strike this listener as particularly Brahmsian, except perhaps in the declamatory and dramatic first movement, which maybe has something of the Brahms D minor about it. There follows a slow and mysterious dance over a lilting piano rhythm, a chattering Scherzo and an energetic Finale.

These are all rewarding works and I believe this may be one of the largest bodies of music for this medium of any twentieth century composer. The violinist here, Annabelle Berthomé-Reynolds, is French and has recorded a good deal of contemporary repertoire. Her partner here is Ivan Donchev, Bulgarian but now based in Italy. There is no note on the artists in the booklet, so I have no idea how long the two of them have worked as a team. Anyway, here they play with great assurance and commitment and do these works proud. The recording is good and the booklet very informative about the works.

There is no direct equivalent of this collection. A number of other recordings have the odd one of these works as part of a mixed recital. The obvious competition is a 2006 two-disc recital from Piotr Plawner and Ewa Kupiec on Hänssler. This has the five sonatas for violin and piano and a number of shorter works for the same medium but not the two solo sonatas. I have not heard it, but it has been well received. I very much enjoyed this recital and certainly the two solo sonatas are worth having alongside the five other works.

Stephen Barber



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