Friday, 29 July 2016

The fascinating sound-world of 20th century accordion music - Bartosz Glowacki at the Wallace Collection

Bartosz Glowacki - photo Karol Prajsner
Scarlatti, Trojan, Takahashi, Makkonen, Pärt, Zolotaryov, Piazzolla; Bartosz Glowacki; City Music Foundation at the Wallace Collection
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 28 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Contemporary music for accordion and transcriptions in an imaginative programme

The City Music Foundation is presenting all of its current artists in a week long residency at the Wallace Collection, with a recital by a different artist or ensemble each day. I caught the lunchtime recital by Polish accordion player Bartosz Glowacki on Thursday 28 July 2016. His imaginative programme started with a pair of Domenico Scarlatti sonatas, and then moved through Vaclav Trojan's Destroyed Cathedral, Yuji Takahashi's Like a Water Buffalo, Petri Makkonen's Flight Beyond Time, Arvo Pärt's Pari Intervallo, and the third movement of Vladislav Zolotaryov's Sonata no. 3 to end with Astor Piazzolla's Libertango. In between the items Glowacki introduced the music, some of the pieces are relatively unknown to audiences but represent important milestones in accordion music. He also introduced the instrument itself, sketching in a little of its history and explaining how the free bass system enabled the playing of polyphonic music with the left hand. He was playing a Pigini accordion.

The Domenico Scarlatti sonatas provided a nicely contrasting pair with the gentle Sonata in A major having wandering melody in the RH with more sustained chords in the left, whilst the Sonata in E minor required some really nifty finger-work in both hands. It was an interesting new sound-world, and a remarkably successful transposition of the music.

Next followed The Destroyed Cathedral by the Czech composer Vaclav Trojan (1907-1983), perhaps best known for his film scores. The work was written in 1958 and is an early example of contemporary writing for the accordion. Trojan wrote the work in response to seeing the destruction in Dresden. Opening in a gently sustained way, utilising the accordion's ability to sound organ-like, the work built in intensity whilst taking advantage of the instrument's facility both to play large chords and to change character quickly. The result was rather compelling and intense (see the video at the bottom of this review, recorded by Glowacki in Aldeburgh).

Yuji Takahashi (born 1938) is a Japanese composer, he was also an activist and his accordion piece Like a Water Buffalo was written in 1985 arising out of protest against the military dictatorship in Thailand. The work is based on a poem by the Australian poet and activist Wendy Poussard. Glowacki read the poem first, before playing the work. Starting with just fragments and interestingly rhythmic snatches the work was rather spare, melancholy and thoughtful. Using a sound-world full of jagged edges, the music developed more toccata-like in the central section before the opening fragments returned, and developed again into something more complex. A rather wonderful piece with a very specific sound-world.


Petri Makkonen (born 1967) is a Finnish accordionist, composer and teacher. His Flight beyond time is a virtuoso accordion solo which started Flight of the Bumble Bee like, with Glowacki demonstrating impressive finger-work in both hands, so fast that the clicking of the keys formed a counterpoint to the music. The middle section was a contrasting melody, rather evocative, played on the LH alone.

Arvo Pärt (born 1935) wrote Pari Intervallo on the death of a friend. It was originally written for organ. Glowacki's performance again brought out the organ-like possibilities of the accordion a sustained and rather contemplative account of the work.

Glowacki described the Sonata No. 3 by Vladislav Zolotaryov (1942-1975), the Russian composer and bayan player, as a revolution in writing for the accordion. Zolotaryov wrote for the bayan which is a Russian form of chromatic accordion using the same button system as Glowacki's instrument. The third movement of the sonata started off as a very mobile scherzo with some amazingly deft finger-work. This exciting sound-world alternated with slower and more intense music  finally ending in a rather dark and intense manner.

Glowacki finished with one of the best known pieces by Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992), Libertango. This was originally written for Piazzolla's own instrument the bandoneon (a form of concertina) and ensemble, and Glowacki played it in his own imaginative transcription for accordion, a delightful end to the concert.



Elsewhere on this blog:
- CD review
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  • Seriously comic: Rossini's La Cenerentola at Opera Holland Park - opera review
  • Sparkle and discipline: Die Fledermaus at Opera Holland Park - Opera review
  • Chorus vel organa: Geoffrey Webber and Choir of Gonville & Caius College - CD review
  • Remarkable swansong: Tristan & Isolde at Grange Park Opera - Opera review
  • Nocturnal variations: Ruby Hughes & Joseph Middleton in Schubert, Berg, Mahler, Britten - CD review
  • Complete Schumann & more: I chat to Sholto Kynoch about this year's Oxford Lieder Festival - Interview
  • On disc at last: Wolf-Ferrari's I gioielli della Madonna - CD review
  • On disc at last: Carlisle Floyd's Wuthering Heights - CD review
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