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Graźyna BACEWICZ (1909-1969)
Piano Sonata No 2 (1953) [20:41]
Two Piano Études (1952) [6:29]
Piano Sonata No 1 (1949) [20:09]
Concert Étude (1949) [3:22]
Piano Sonata (1930) [14:47]
Joanna Sochacka (piano)
Rec. July 2020, Concert Hall of the Graźyna and Kiejstut Academy of Music, Łódź, Poland
DUX 1689 [63:38]

Graźyna Bacewicz was, along with the slightly younger Lutosławski, the leading Polish composer in the generation between Szymanowski and Penderecki. For most of her life she combined composition with a career as a professional violinist until a car accident put an end to her performing. She composed copiously for her own instrument, including seven concertos (one withheld) and a good deal of chamber music. She also wrote four symphonies and a set of remarkable string quartets. She was also a pianist of professional competence, who performed and accompanied her own works in recitals. Her piano compositions, though less copious than those for the violin, are rather too many to fit onto one disc, so every one that has been issued has a different selection of them.

At this point we can introduce the pianist. Joanna Sochacka is Polish and has won numerous prizes as well as being currently a doctoral student. She has made a particular study of Bacewicz’s piano music and this is the first recording to contain all three of her piano sonatas, presented in reverse chronological order and interspersed with some Études. The early piano sonata and one of the Études are first recordings and this is also Sochacka’s debut disc. As she displays a complete technical command of these often very challenging works and an impressive grasp of the idiom, this is an auspicious beginning.

Bacewicz’s piano writing might be described as modernistic but not excessively so. She has obviously listened to Bartók and the impressionists and one can also occasionally hear Scriabin and her compatriot Szymanowski in the background. But basically, her idiom is her own, concentrating on and indeed enjoying the power of the piano to offer fistfuls of chords, driving rhythms and complex harmonies.

She composed three piano sonatas, the first unnumbered, but published only one, which is therefore No 2. This is actually her culminating piano work and, in the now celebrated recording by Krystian Zimerman, was her breakthrough work into a wider public. This begins Sochacka’s recital with a formidable performance. The work is in three movements. The first begins with stamping chords which lead to a kind of dance. A quieter passage brings echoes of Scriabin’s ninth sonata. In the second movement a sad melody unfolds over slow chords. The finale is a toccata with occasional outbursts and a violent ending.

After this, the two earlier sonatas seem like sketches for their successor. However, they both have interesting passages: in the Sonata No 1 there is an evocative ghostly passage in the first movement and a splendidly tricksy and vital scherzo. The early sonata is perhaps less interesting but features the same confident and sometimes massive pianism that characterises all her writing for the instrument.

Bacewicz also enjoyed writing Études for the piano and we have three of them here. The first of the Two Études of 1952 features legato and staccato at the same time while the second, more playful, features thirds. The 1949 Concert Étude is longer and more romantic. I am sorry there was not room for the Ten Concert Études of 1956, which at times seem to anticipate those of Ligeti.

I have already praised Sochacka’s playing. She is well recorded and wrote her own, very informative, sleevenote about the works here. As this disc contains two first recordings and is the only one to include all three piano sonatas, those interested in Bacewicz should not hesitate.

Stephen Barber

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