Ondine’s most recent release featuring pianist Peter Jablonski also happens to be the best possible calling card for the highly gifted Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) (it’s on ODE 1427-2, £11.50). The opening Overture (1943) is an exact contemporary of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra (which Bacewicz wouldn’t yet have heard because the Bartók wasn’t actually premièred until the following year) and starts very much in the manner of the Concerto’s thrilling finale. The highly personably Piano Concerto (1949) should be far better known, its finale reminiscent of Martinu and Schmitt’s electrifying Tragédie de Salomé (‘Danse des éclairs’) whereas in the first movement Poulenc seems a credible point of reference.

Bacewicz really comes into her own with her Concerto for two pianos and orchestra of 1966 (this is its first digital recording, the excellent pianist Elisabeth Brauß being Jablonski’s duo partner for the occasion), with its darting clusters. Form is another a priority with her, delicacy too; she knows how to structure a piece, follow her intuition without being swamped by disparate ideas. But it’s her sound world that most seduces, brightly coloured busyness that brooks no compromise, and is never pushed off course.

The very idea of a Music for Strings, Trumpets and Percussion (1958) suggests echoes of Bartók and Frank Martin but although reminiscent of a style of writing dating back to the 1930s and 40s it casts its own spell. The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Nicholas Collon offer the soloists support that is both highly dramatic and, where needs be, sensitive to even the subtlest nuances (which are plentiful throughout all four works).

The recordings are superb, and the disc is also very well annotated. An earlier Jablonski disc of solo piano music by Bacewicz is out on ODE1399-2, c£12.75, and that too is to be much recommended. 

A sense of play is an uppermost priority in Lukás Vondrácek’s set of Rachmaninoff piano concertos + the Paganini Rhapsody with the Prague Symphony Orchestra under Tomás Brauner (Supraphon SU43232, 2 cds, c£18.50). Always a good point to wade in is the First Concerto’s last movement with its constant shifts from frenetic activity to poetic reflection, where Vondrácek, Brauner and the Prague players achieve excitement without breathlessness, and sentiment without sentimentality. As to the Fourth Concerto Vondrácek confesses (in the context of an excellent booklet interview) that for him ‘it does have a few empty, almost meaningless passages, yet they suddenly give way to beauty, unexpected, out of the blue.’ His approach certainly chimes with this ‘burst of sunlight’ idea. The finale suggests an accompanied Etude Tableau and again, Vondrácek’s playing (of the revised version), swift, motor-driven but never brickly. In the Paganini Rhapsody Vondrácek and Brauner play catch-up, one anticipating or jumping ahead of the other, which is very much the nature of the piece, but only really works if the players are up to it. Here they are.

The Second Concerto opens broadly, Vondrácek ushering in the orchestra with maximum grandeur before firing off in anticipation of the second subject, which he plays most poetically. The Third wafts in with cool assurance, then bubbles excitedly as if bound for wider waters (which of course it is), Vondrácek coaxing a maximum of expressive charm from the slower music though nothing we hear quite anticipates the breadth and drama of the big cadenza (an option not often taken, not even nowadays). In Vondrácek’s hands the confessional Adagio ‘Intermezzo’ asks as many questions as it answers. It’s as if you’re sitting in on the recreative process, your mind fast wired to that of the pianist. Once past most of the virtuoso acrobatics, the finale gradually takes on a level of melancholy that suggests that Vondrácek is living the music from the inside. How wonderful the sudden envoi at 9:15, just a few simple slow chords that just about say it all, an unforgettably poignant moment.

Thirty-six is still very young. Give him another thirty years and Lukás Vondrácek will probe even deeper into scores that he loves and that we should love more than we do. He inspires not only our admiration but our respect, and I’d place his playing of these mighty works alongside performances by Giltburg, Pletnev and others. The excellent recordings have plenty of presence.  

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