Bacewicz excavations

Like all music of importance Grażyna Bacewicz’s piano works (Ondine ODE 1399-2, c£12.75) sound as if they were excavated after being hidden for years rather fashioned on the spot. In other words, it’s as if deep down we somehow already know them, just that we need to be reminded of what they actually sound like. Take the first of the Ten Concert Etudes (1956-7), like a Bartók Study (ie the first piece from Bartók’s Op.18 set) altered with time, motor-driven but never inflexible. “I possess this little unseen engine,” writes Bacewicz, “and thanks to it I accomplish a task in ten minutes which takes others an hour or more”. You suss that refreshing ability to ‘cut the cr**p’ by the number of pieces that end either very emphatically (Study No. 6) or with a sense of unsullied resolution (Study No. 4). And yet there’s mystery to spare, in No. 8 which glances back to Bacewicz’s compatriots Szymanowski, even Chopin (and by harmonic association the Russian Skryabin). 

Invention is legion, such and we hear in No. 9 where although the music rushes ahead, a force of nature keeps pulling it back again (at least initially) while the last of these studies suggests, in its utter tumultuousness, distant parallels with the last of Chopin’s first set (ie, Op. 10), the ‘Revolutionary’, a fervent maelstrom that troubles the memory like a gnawing earworm. Then there are the Two Etudes on Double Notes (1955), again with the odd Chopinesque cadence (in No. 1) whereas No. 2 carries with it a hint of puckishness typical of Prokofiev or Shostakovich in playful mood (as they so often are in their piano works). But what makes this disc indispensable, aside from the dazzling and musically persuasive playing of Peter Jablonski, are the two piano sonatas, the First from 1949, the Second from 1953, the two slow movements especially, the first with gentle chimes breaking through the solemnity, the second, an intensely elegiac Largowith hints of a fugue towards its close. As to the Second’s Toccata-finale, if you know Arthur Rubinstein’s dazzling rapid-fire showpiece encore ‘O polichinelo’ (‘Punch’), from Book 1 of Villa-Lobos’s A prole do bebê (1918), you’ll have some idea what to expect. As I said at the head of this notice, it’s as if Bacewicz has unearthed hidden treasures for our delectation. We in turn should keep abreast of her rich pickings and believe me there are plenty to choose from. Excellent annotations and sound by the way.

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