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Graźyna BACEWICZ (1909-1969)
Little Triptych (1965) [2:38]
Concert Krakowiak (1949) [5:58]
Children’s Suite (1933) [9:32]
Two Études for Double Notes 1955) [5:22]
Ten Concert Études (1956) [19:49]
Trois pičces caracteristiques (1932) [4:38]
Piano Sonata No. 2 (1953) [16:01]
Morta Grigaliūnaité (piano)
rec. 2018, Atlăntico Blue Studios, Lisbon, Portugal

For most of her career, Bacewicz was a professional violinist as well as a composer, but she also played the piano and did so well enough to play her own very demanding works in concert. Here we have a recital of most of them and they give a picture of a rather different side of her from that which we get from her quartets and violin sonatas.

Her piano idiom is firmly twentieth century, often suggestive of Bartók and occasionally even sometimes seems to anticipate Ligeti, though Ligeti’s piano Études were well in the future when she died. Occasional passages suggest Stravinsky or Prokofiev, and on the lyrical side she has clearly listened to French impressionism. However, I mention these affiliations only as pointers, as she has worked out her own idiom and has a definite pianistic personality.

The works in this recital are not arranged in chronological order but offer a variety leading up to her magnum opus for piano, the second sonata. We begin with the Little Triptych. This is little only in the sense that the three pieces are all very short; none is as long as a minute, but what they lack in time they more than make up for in density: the first is fast and furious, the second, clouded with pedal, is Scriabinesque and sinister, and the third scampers across the keyboard at a great rate.

The Concert Krakowiak is a virtuoso showpiece which is nothing like as genial as Chopin’s work of the same name. It is full of ideas, good ones too, but, to my mind, stays too little with any one of them to be a satisfactory whole - and it seems too long. It is the only work here which I find disappointing.

The Children’s Suite, an early work, is an obvious successor to Debussy’s Children Corner and this set of ten short pieces pays homage to him in a number of ways. The Waltz is practically a rewrite of La plus que lente, and the final Scherzino hints at Debussy’s final piano study, pour les accords. On the other hand, the opening Prélude, the Lullaby and the Burlesque are Ravelian. I could go on but suffice it to say that these are charming pieces which will appeal to anyone who likes French Impressionism.
We then have Two Études for Double Notes, the first with complex but melting harmonies and the second with many skips in each hand.

Bacewicz obviously enjoyed writing these Études as she followed up with a set of ten, which follow here. These are extremely difficult virtuoso pieces and very exciting. The majority of them are fast but in a variety of moods. I mentioned before the anticipation of Ligeti and, in a way, this set is the link between Bartók and the Ligeti Études. I also suspect that, as they become better known, they will increasingly feature in concert programmes.

The Trois pičces caracteristiques are a brief interlude before the sonata. They are short and the first two are lyrical while the third is more declamatory.

The sonata itself is by far the best-known of Bacewicz’s piano works and this is justified as she herself considered it her most important. I should point out that it is the only piano sonata she released – an earlier one remains unpublished and unperformed. (She did something similar with her sixth violin concerto, which was composed but which has never appeared.) Not only must it be challenging to play, it also makes more demands on the listener than any other of the works here. There are three movements: the first very varied and somewhat Scriabinesque, the second sombre and the third a toccata which occasionally breaks into a kind of lumbering dance but with explosions and a manic ending. However, despite its complexities it makes an immediate impact.

The pianist here, Morta Grigaliūnaité, is Lithuanian and has performed extensively in Europe and the UK. She is an obvious enthusiast for the composer and also wrote the sleeve-note for this recording; however, Piano Classics forgot to provide the dates of the works and the timings of each one. She has an amazing technique and dispatches all these works with great aplomb. I do feel she lacks poetry in some of the quieter works and passages but even saying so seems carping. I have no complaints about the recording.

There is not a great deal of competition in this field. Ewa Kupiec on Hänssler offers a partly overlapping programme. For the piano sonata there are a number of choices, including one by the great Kristian Zimerman on DG, but if you choose this recording you will not be disappointed; it is very impressive.

Stephen Barber

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