Wednesday, 31 May 2017

A fine introduction: chamber music by Grazyna Bacewicz

Grazyna Bacewicz chamber music
Grazyna Bacewicz chamber music; Diana Ambache and friends; Ambache Recordings
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 30 2017
Star rating: 4.0

A survey of the imaginative chamber music of the 20th century Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz

Until I came across this disc, the most I had heard of Grazyna Bacewicz's music was the occasional piece on recital discs such as Janusz Wawrowski's Sequenza disc (see my review). Here, on her own label, pianist Diana Ambache is joined by a wide range of friends to perform a selection of Grazyna Bacewicz's chamber music from across her career stretching from 1934 to 1965. So Diana Ambache (piano),  David Juritz, Victoria Sayles, Richard Milone & Charlotte Scott (violins), Ashok Klouda, Rebecca Knight, Sarah Suckling & Morwenna Del Mar (cellos), Jeremy Polmear (oboe), Lucy Wakeford (harp) and Tristan Fry (percussion), perform Grazyna Bacewicz's Quartet for four violins, Mazovian Dance for violin and piano, Trio for oboe, violin and cello, Theme with variations for violin & piano, Quartet for four cellos, Polish dance for violin & piano, Trio for oboe, harp & percussion and Slavonic Dance for violin & piano.

Grazyna Bacewicz was Poland's most acclaimed woman composers in the 20th century; her training included periods in Paris studying with Nadia Boulanger and studying violin with Carl Flesch, and she became principal violin of the Polish Radio Orchestra. Bacewicz seems to have had the ability to navigate the complex political world of post-war Poland despite never  writing overtly political works. She died just before the age of 60, leaving a substantial body of work with several orchestral works, concertos and seven string quartets.


This disc opens with the Quartet for four violins, designed as a teaching piece in 1949. The three contrasting movements display an elegant, refined technique with a strong influence of neo-classicism (something that crops up regularly on the disc and which Bacewicz seems to have imbibed during her time in Paris in the 1930s). There are folk hints too and some imaginative use of texture in writing for four violins.

The Maziovian Dance for violin and piano from 1951 starts with a lush romantic feel but a sparkily folk-ish section also suggests Bartok. A number of pieces on the disc also remind me of British music from the 1950, hardly an influence perhaps more of a mutual influence by strands of European music.

The Trio for oboe, violin and cello from 1934 is elegantly expressive in the neo-classical style, the three movements moving from perky to slow and back again, with some spiky harmonies and a distance echo of Jean Francaix. Also from 1934, the Theme with variations for violin and piano combines folk influence with neo-classicism and some imaginative writing for the violin. In her booklet note Diana Ambache suggests the theme came from one of Bacewicz's childhood holidays with her father's relations in Lithuania.

The Quartet for four cellos is one of the most recent works on the disc, dating from 1964. In two movements, Narrazione and Riflessioni it is an intense piece, full of dark sonorities and spiky harmonies. It is a tough piece with an edgy atmosphere and sense of mystery, all in all rather terrific.

Not surprisingly Polish Dance for violin and piano, from 1948, is far more folk-inspired. The Trio for oboe, harp and percussion dates from 1964 but had to to wait until 1974 for its premiere. Bacewicz uses the slightly unusual combination of instruments to create some spare yet transparent textures. Still rather neo-classical in style, the work is more intense than some of the earlier pieces and the oboe is very much the protagonist. The final movement is marked 'Giacoso' but it is still spare and very intense. A wonderful and rather imaginative piece. The final piece on the disc, Slavonic Dance for violin and piano from 1952 has a very different atmosphere, very much neo-classicism meets Bartok.

This is a terrific disc, bringing out the unusual strands of Bacewicz's chamber music rather than simply recording a selection of string quartets. Diana Ambache provides an excellent booklet note introducing Bacewicz's music and career, and the performances from all concerned are admirable. A fine introduction to this neglected composer.

Grazyna Bacewicz (1906-1969) - Quartet for four violins (1949) [11.23]
Grazyna Bacewicz - Mazovian Dance for violin and piano (1951) [3.11]
Grazyna Bacewicz - Trio for oboe, violin and cello (1934) [9.13]
Grazyna Bacewicz - Theme with Variations for violin and piano (1934) [7.04]
Grazyna Bacewicz -   Quartet for four cellos (1964) [13.36]
Grazyna Bacewicz - Polish Dance for violin and piano (1948) [16.30]
Grazyna Bacewicz - Trio for oboe, harp and percussion (1965) [16.30]
Grazyna Bacewicz - Slavonic Dance for violin and piano (1952) [3.01]
Diana Ambache (piano)
David Juritz, Victoria Sayles, Richard Milone, & Charlotte Scott (violins)
Ashok Klouda, Rebecca Knight, Sarah Suckling, & Morwenna Del Mar (cellos)
Jeremy Polmear (oboe)
Lucy Wakeford (harp)Tristan Fry (percussion)
Recorded at The Warehouse, London 13-15 July 2016
AMBACHE AMB2607 1CD [66.18]
Available from Amazon

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