Tuesday 28 January 2020

Genesis: accordionist Bartosz Glowacki's fine debut recording moves from Scarlatti & Rameau to Trojan, Gubaidulina, Vlasov, Pärt & Piazzolla

Genesis - Scarlatti, Rameau, Trojan, Gubaidulina, Pärt, Vlasov, Piazzolla; Bartosz Glowacki, Rob Luft, Elias Peter Brown; DUX
Genesis - Scarlatti, Rameau, Trojan, Gubaidulina, Pärt, Vlasov, Piazzolla; Bartosz Glowacki, Rob Luft, Elias Peter Brown; DUX
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 January 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An eclectic programme for accordionist Bartosz GLowacki's debut album showcases some terrific playing and fine contemporary writing for the instrument

Genesis is the debut album from the accordionist Bartosz Glowacki, on the Dux label, where he plays an eclectic selection of music from transcriptions of Scarlatti and Rameau to contemporary accordion masterpieces, Vaclav Trojan's Ruined Cathedral, Sofia Gubaidulina's De Profundis and Victor Vlasov's Five Views on Gulag State, plus a transcription of Arvo Pärt's Intervallo. The recital ends with Glowacki being joined by guitarist Rob Luft and a string ensemble, conducted by Elias Peter Brown, for Astor Piazzolla's Double Concerto 'Hommage a Liege' for bandoneon, guitar and string orchestra.

We open with Domenico Scarlatti's Sonata in A major which capitalises on Glowacki's ability to create a lovely singing tone on his instrument. And once you adjust to the new sound world, Glowacki's transcription is entirely convincing. Next comes one of Rameau's harpsichord pieces, L'Egyptienne, a delightful piece where Glowacki makes his instrument lightly engaging.

The classical accordion is only 50 years old, so music written for it is all contemporary. 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. Trojan's piece was inspired by the sight of the bombing in Dresden and Trojan's writing really pushes the instrument's ability to create long sustained chords. A dark, quiet work, Glowacki makes it remarkably compelling and intense.

Evidently the accordion is Sofia Gubaidulina's favourite instrument, saying that it is the only instrument that can breathe. De Profundis is a 1978 work written originally for the Russian bayan, a chromatic button accordion developed in the early 20th century. It is a complex piece, challenging for the player as Gubaidulina uses a remarkable range of techniques in the piece from glissandi and shuddering vibratos to the sighing of the instrument's bellows. Starting low down and disturbing, and slowly ascending, the work includes a chorale-like melody which seems to be attempting to raise itself up.

Arvo Pärt's Intervallo dates from the earliest period of the composer's tintinnabuli works. Written in 1976 it is in four-parts without specifying the instruments, and on this recording Glowacki plays all four on the accordion. The result comes out as rather organ-like, dark and contemplative.

Views on the Gulag State by the Ukrainian composer Victor Vlasov (born 1936) was inspired by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's book The Gulag Archipelago, and each movement is a scene from life in the Siberian prison camp; A Zone, A Stage, Thieves, Wood Cutting Area, Criminal Authority and Creep. It starts with just the breath of the accordion, developing into a dark and intense piece, whilst A Stage combines the sound of rhythmic marching with unsettling flurries of notes. Thieves is fast with moments of perkiness but full of disturbing elements. Wood Cutting includes rhythmic percussive effects as well as atmospheric music to terrific effect, whilst the final piece is fast and virtuoso yet again with moments of disturbance. This is a terrific piece, very graphic and imaginative, using many different techniques with Glowacki giving an impressive performance.

The Liège in the title of Piazzolla's concerto refers to the Liège Guitar Festival where Piazzolla premiered the concerto in 1985 with guitarist Cacho Tirao accompanied by the Liège Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leo Brouwer. We start with an extensive bluesy solo for the electric guitar, echoed by the accordion with guitar accompaniment, and there is an improvisatory feel to the movement. Only with the second movement, Milonga, do we become aware of the strings. This is more formally structured, yet pure Piazzolla and he clearly relishes the sheer contrast between the styles and textures of his two solo instruments, allowing them both to flower over the rhythmic pulse of the strings. Lyrical in conception, the dialogue between the two instruments has a sense of melancholy longing to it. Finally we have a wonderfully toe-tapping Tango.

With any debut album comes the desire to showcase what you can do, but Glowacki has managed to combine this with a fascinating and multi-faceted programme which celebrates the capabilities of the modern accordion as well as presenting some striking 20th century music for the instrument, along with Glowacki's own terrific playing.

Domenico Scarlattei (1686-1737) - Sonata in A major, K208
Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) - L'Egyptienne
Vaclav Trojan (1907-1983) - The Ruined Cathedral
Sofia Gubaidulina (born 1931) - De profundis
Arvo Pärt (born 1935) - Intervallo
Victor Vlasov (1903-1986) - Five Views on Gulag State
Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) - Double Concerto 'Hommage a Liege' for bandoneon, guitar and string orchestra
Bartosz Glowacki (accordion)
Rob Luft (guitar)
String Ensemble (Rakhi Singh, Charlie Brookes, Simmy Singh, Vanessa Chan, Lojanna Ly, Gillian Brightwell, Maite Colas, Michael Bennett, Sebastian Lee, Matthew Kendell, Zara Hudson-Kozdoj, Adam Spiers, Daryl Giuliano, Leonie Adams, Elena Marigomez)
Elias Peter Brown (conductor)
Recorded at the church of St Bartholomew the Less, London, 9-10 June & 16 June 2018
DUX 1585 1CD [66.30]
Available from Amazon.

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