I've acquired quite a few CDs of Grazyna Bacewicz's music during the recent revival of her music. I have found her output quite variable, but have enjoyed much of it.
On Chandos, her Violin Concertos are quite marvelous. Her String Quintets are pretty good too. Her String Quartets, though - not so much. There's a very nice collection of some lighter orchestral music on Hyperion (Ronald Corp conducting) along with a smattering of selections here and there on various releases on the Polish label, Dux.
And then there's this latest CD from Ondine.
Surely there comes a point when enough is enough. I think we've heard the best of her output, and...well, can't we just leave it at that? Unfortunately, the music on this newest disc is not some of her best, as it reveals perhaps too much of her dissonant style at its least effective.
But there are some good things. Certainly the earliest work, Overture (from 1943), which comes first on this CD, is quite pleasant and makes a splendid concert opener. But it lasts just 5-1/2 minutes. Then it's on to the Piano Concerto of 1949, which is OK, but gets a little weird (much like her String Quartets). If not entirely coherent as a whole, there are passages with enough structure and direction that one can appreciate the accomplishment. A memorable tune or two would have been most welcome. But overall it's worth hearing.
Jump ahead 17 years to 1966 and Ms. Bacewicz gets weirder still with the Double Piano Concerto. Here we have 16 minutes of pounding from the pianists interspersed with some pleasing, almost melodic, interludes. The slow movement in particular has some beguiling passages of haunting melancholy with some beautiful solo writing (flute, violin) and imaginative orchestration. But, irritatingly, Bacewicz insists on interrupting it again and again with unnecessary pounding from the pianos. Why someone would intentionally interject something so unappealing into something so wonderful is baffling. The piece is certainly an homage to Bartok. Everywhere I hear snippets of his music (more than just hints). The Larghetto in particular is very reminiscent of the 1st movement of his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, while the finale has much of that work's final section, and even some of his Concerto for Orchestra. But Bacewicz is angrier than Bartok and deliberately dissonant in places which don't really call for it.
The concluding Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion is not quite as noisy, and has some much needed light-and-shade air to it after the relentless pounding of the Double Concerto. It is nonetheless determinedly atonal. The piece has so much promise, but frankly, I'm not convinced by the inclusion of trumpets in this mostly string work. One wonders whatever inspired her to include them. There are many instances where the strings, aided by subtle use of percussion, generate momentum with an interesting, energetic passage only to be inexplicably interrupted by the trumpets (almost always at ff) which serve only to add unnecessary discord. So much potential here seems to have gone amiss with the scoring.
One can't fault the musicians for their total commitment to this music. The orchestra and pianists alike play it as loudly as it demands and with all the bombast it deserves. But I can't help but wonder if a touch more finesse and nuance in those grisly parts would have allowed them to be a little more palatable for many of us.
I would strongly recommend anyone wanting to explore this composer to turn to the several releases on Chandos for a much more musically satisfying representation of her art. Chandos gave us much of her best and then knew when to quit with it.
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