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Domenico SCARLATTI (1686 – 1757)
Sonata in A major, K. 208 [3:56]
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1682 – 1764)
L’Egyptienne [2:53]
Václav TROJAN (1907 – 1983)
The Ruined Cathedral [6:10]
Sofia GUBAIDULINA (b. 1931)
De profundis [12:13]
Arvo PÄRT (b. 1935)
Pari intervallo [5:09]
Victor VLASOV (1903 – 1986)
Five Views of Gulag State [19:49]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921 – 1992)
Double Concerto “Hommage ā Ličge” for bandoneon (accordion), guitar and string orchestra [16:19]
Bartosz Głowacki (accordion)
rec. 2018, St Bartholomew-the-less Church, London
DUX 1585 [66:30]

Bartosz Głowacki started his musical education in his homeland Poland and then moved to London and the Royal Academy of Music, where he graduated with honours in 2016. Besides being an extremely skilled accordionist he also plays the bandoneon, the originally German instrument which has become synonymous with the South American tango tradition in Argentina and Uruguay. A tango disc is planned for 2020. On the present album he takes the listener on a fascinating tour through the centuries and covers a number of national cultures. Starting with the Italian harpsichord master Domenico Scarlatti, contemporaneous with Bach and Handel – who however spent most of his musical life in Spain – he creates a dreamlike meditation out of the Sonata in A major, K. 208, which Ralph Kirkpatrick, the Scarlatti scholar, describes as ‘courtly flamenco music rendered elegant and suitable for the confines of the royal palace’ and mentions that similar arabesques are still heard among Gypsies of southern Spain. Gypsy influences are also heard in Rameau’s L’Egyptienne, also a harpsichord piece which portraits a woman from Egypt, which was the land of the Gypsies, according to legend. If the Scarlatti sonata is slow and meditative, this piece gets a very dynamic reading, which could never have been achieved on the harpsichord. The accordion is certainly a very flexible instrument with a wide range of sonorities and dynamics.

With the next piece, Czech composer Václav Trojan takes us to the aftermath of WW2 and the Allies’ terror bombing of Dresden, where most of the city was ruined, including Frauenkirche which was preserved as a ruin for several decades until the two Germanys were united in the 1990s. Trojan didn’t live long enough to see the renovated church; his composition The Ruined Cathedral, an original work for accordion, is a threnody over the cathedral itself and the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives. The elegy, filled with sorrow, eventually grows to anger and despair over the cruelty of mankind – only to return to the elegiac mood of the beginning. The work, written in 1958, is a deeply moving parallel to Penderecki’s better known Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, written in 1960. Both composers obviously felt that enough time had passed to remind the world of two of the cruellest crimes against mankind in modern history.

Václav Trojan is probably best known for his film music but his oeuvre is very comprehensive and covers most genres. Sofia Gubaidulina’s oeuvre is just as comprehensive – and also includes some film score, but while Trojan, principally speaking is neo-classicist, Gubaidulina is more experimental and often explores the possibilities to employ unconventional sound productions. The present piece, De profundis, from 1978, was developed in close cooperation with Friedrich Lips, who also premiered the work in Moscow in 1980. He played the bayan, a Russian variant of the accordion. Gubaidulina is deeply religious and De profundis is based on Psalm 130 – Out of the depths [I call to Thee, O Lord]. And it begins with clusters in the lowest register of the instrument and gradually works its way up to the descant. Melodies in the traditional sense of the word are absent but the 12-minute-work is a fascinating journey through a sound world that continually shifts and surprises.

In comparison Arvo Pärt’s Pari intervallo (1976) is static but suggestive. This is one of his earliest tintinnabuli works, which became epoch-making and made Pärt a kind of guru for many younger composers. It was originally composed as a four part piece with no specific instrumentation but as time went on he arranged it for several different combinations of instruments.

Victor Vlasov is another composer who has devoted himself to film music. And this can easily be heard in his suite Five Views on Gulag State. Inspired by the books of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Varlam Shalamov and Lev Razgon he composed this soundscape of the state that represents the Soviet forced labour system. An accordionist himself he is well aware of the possibilities to paint in instrumental colours – and this is picturesque music. In five movements – or pictures if you like – he describes the train that has just arrived with new prisoners, prisoners who have to walk hundreds of kilometres – you hear the tramping of feet, you experience the thieves, nervous activity, frightening. You arrive to the woodcutting area, and listen to lamenting melody, a folksong sung by the prisoners, I believe, with the monotonous background sounds of the wood cutting. Finally, most frightening of all, we encounter the criminal authorities of the camp, who murder, torture their co-prisoners. A jolly dancelike melody at first makes you believe that this is the entertainment of the camp, but the jarring dissonances that surround the music speak another language. And this was the reality for thousands and thousands of people – some of them ‘true’ criminals who had committed thefts, murders – but also those who ‘were out of favour with the communist regime’ like artists, authors, musicians. A horrible document, illustrated, not in technicolour but in 40 nuances of grey. A mausoleum over an awful period of Soviet misrule.

The album is rounded off with Astor Piazzolla’s Concerto for bandoneon, guitar and string orchestra ‘Hommage ā Liege’. Piazzolla left behind a huge body of music – more than 3000 works. And it is natural to think that among so many works there has to be pieces that at closer scrutiny are not up to the mark, but truth to tell I’ve still not found a single work that hasn’t at least a special twist that catches interest. This double concerto has a lot that speaks to its advantage. The combination bandoneon (in this case I believe it is an accordion) and guitar may seem odd, but the guitar is electrically amplified so the balance is no problem and the young British jazz guitarist Rob Luft is a splendid instrumentalist. The string orchestra at first seemed too lush – Mantovani with water – but I soon adjusted to it and the combination worked well and the concluding Tango turned out to be a real swinger. The recordings, made in a London church, are fully satisfactory. All the music is not comfortable – I believe Gubaidulina and Vlasov may be a hard nut to crack at first hearing – but give them a chance. At repeated listening they open up, and much of the music here makes you think – not a bad thing to do in turbulent times!

Göran Forsling

Other performers in Piazzolla
Rob Luft (guitar), Rakhi Singh, Charlie Brookes, Simmy Singh, Vanessa Chan, Joanna Ly, Gillian Brightwell (Violins); Maite Colas, Michael Bennett, Sebastian Lee, Matthew Kendell (violas); Zara Hudson-Kozdoj, Adam Spiers, Daryl Giuliano, Leoni Adams (cellos); Elena Marigomez (double bass) / Elias Peter Brown

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