Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Complex and thoughtful: Bartosz Glowacki in music for accordion at Rhinegold Live

 Bartosz Glowacki
 Bartosz Glowacki
Domenico Scarlatti, Vaclav Trojan, Victor Vlasov, Petri Makkonen, Alessandro Marcello/JS Bach, Vladislav Zolotaryov, Astor Piazzolla; Bartosz Glowacki; Rhinegold Live at the Conway Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 04 2017
Star rating: 4.5

The young Polish accordionist in a programme mixing Baroque transcriptions with contemporary music for accordion

The Polish accordion player Bartosz Glowacki's appearance at Rhinegold Live at the Conway Hall on Tuesday 4 July 2017, might have been last minute (the Chiaroscuro Quartet having been forced to cancel because of illness), but he delivered a striking and thoughtful programme which combined arrangements of Domenico Scarlatti and Alessandro Marcello, with more recent pieces written specifically for the accordion, Vaclav Trojan's Destroyed Cathedral, movements from Victor Vlasov's Five Views on the Land of the Gulag archipelago, Petri Makkonen's Flight Beyond The Time, and the finale from Vladislav Zolotaryvov's Sonata No. 3, finishing with Astor Piazzolla's Libertango (in fact written for the bandoneon, which is a form of concertina).

We started with Domenico Scarlatti's Sonata in a major K208, in Glowacki's own transcription for accordion (essentially just playing the keyboard part on the accordion). The result, once you adjusted to the new sound-world, was wonderfully quiet and subtle though the instrument gave a rather Romantic glow to the music.

Destroyed Cathedral by Vaclav Trojan (1907-1983), best known for his film scores, is a very early example of music being written specifically for the accordion, Glowacki explained that the modern chromatic accordion is only 50 years old, so that music written for it is all contemporary.
Trojan's piece was inspired by the sight of the bombing in Dresden. Trojan's writing really pushes the instrument's ability to create long sustained chords, and  Glowacki's made it remarkably compelling and intense. This was followed by three movements from Views on the Land of the Gulag Archipelago by the Ukrainian composer Victor Vlasov (born 1936). The piece was inspired by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's book The Gulag Archipelago, and each movement is scene from life in the Siberian prison camp. We heard Zona, Prisoners Walking and Wood Cutting. Zona started with just the breath of the accordion, developing into a dark and intense piece, whilst Prisoners Walking combined the sound of rhythmic marching with unsettling flurries of notes, and Wood Cutting included percussive effects as well as atmospheric music. This was a terrific piece, very graphic and imaginative, using advanced techniques with Glowacki giving an impressive performance.

Flight Beyond Time is a virtuoso piece by Finnish accordionist Petri Makkonen (born 1938). Quiet but intense, the virtuoso fast finger-work of the opening section created a real rhythmic effect, whilst the middle section was evocative and rather bleak, with the opening music returning louder and more vivid.

Bach transcribed Alessandro Marcello's Oboe Concerto in D minor for keyboard, and we heard Glowacki's very effective transcription of this for accordion. He had a remarkable ability to suggest the solo line floating over the accompaniment, the results quite Romantic but very affecting.


Vladislav Zolotaryov (1942-1975), the Russian composer and bayan player, wrote for the bayan which is a Russian form of chromatic accordion. Glowacki played the 'Finale' from Zolotaryov's Sonata No. 3, a tango-esque movement, which was fast moving, complex and intense, a fragment of the Dies irae evening appearing at one point. This was writing for the accordion at its most complex and serious.

Finally, a wonderfully evocative and exciting account of Astor Piazzolla's Libertango, except it wasn't the end. Such was the audience reaction to Glowacki's performance that he came back for one final piece, a lovely melancholy end to a fine concert.

After the concert there was a short Q&A between Glowacki and Katie Wright, the deputy editor of Classical Music magazine. Glowacki talked about how the instrument is only 50 years old, but has become popular with contemporary composers, perhaps because it has such an interesting sound-world, and can be quite wild; it is also a very portable instrument.

Glowacki commissions music for the instrument, but he admitted that this was a very complex process that can take ages. The instrument is new for many composers, they have to figure out what each key does and he asks them not to write at the piano as this does not work well for the instrument. When commissioning a new piece he is looking for something which captures the authentic voice of the instrument

Glowacki started learning the accordion almost by accident. He explained that he was very noisy as a child, so his mother decided to send him to music school, but did so late so that there was only the accordion left. He was very disappointed, but a year later he heard one in concert and was inspired.

Glowacki is recording his debut album, which will combine transcriptions and original music for the accordion by Magnus Lindberg, Luciano Berio, Sofia Gubaidulina and Vladislav Zolotaryov as well as new commissions from promising British composers. Glowacki was a City Music Foundation artist and he credited the City Music Foundation's support in the recording of the album, explaining that the foundation showed their young artists how to function in the musical world, coaching in areas like business and marketing.

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