Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Neoclassicism with a Polish Accent from Bacewicz

from the Amazon.com Web page of the album being discussed

This past October the Belgian muso label released a two-CD album of the complete violin sonatas by Polish composer Grażyna Bacewicz. This repertoire consists of five sonatas for violin and piano, composed between 1941 and 1951, two sonatas for solo violin, composed, respectively, in 1941 and 1958, and the 1955 partita for violin and piano. Those categories might suggest that Bacewicz had been influenced by the neoclassical movement. Given that she had spent 1932 and 1933 in Paris (on a stipend granted to her by Ignacy Jan Paderewski), where she studied with Nadia Boulanger and had a wealth of opportunities to listen to the prevailing composers of that time, one can appreciate that neoclassicism appealed to her.

Nevertheless, it did not take Bacewicz long to establish her own approach to neoclassicism that would distinguish her work from the retrospective innovations of composers like Igor Stravinsky, Francis Poulenc, and Darius Milhaud. Furthermore, there is a light touch that cuts across the breadth of her violin repertoire, which distinguishes it from the darker colors one encounters in her seven string quartets, composed between 1939 and 1965. Indeed, that light touch is somewhat surprising when one realizes that Bacewicz lived in Warsaw throughout the Nazi occupation during World War II and even managed to give underground secret concerts.

Those who survive such catastrophic events often do so by deliberately maintaining multiple personalities. Thus, while one might say that there is an expressionist “rhetoric of survival” in the quartets written after the Nazi invasion of Poland, the violin sonatas are guided primarily by formal structures, which Bacewicz approaches as sources of inspiration, rather than limitation. The optimistic freshness that springs from those sources suggests that her stylistic techniques may have served to keep depression from getting the better of her spirit.

On this new recording, those elevated spirits are consistently evoked by violinist Annabelle Berthomé-Reynolds. Her accompanist is pianist Ivan Donchev, and the chemistry between them could not be more uplifting. The result is a delightful collection that is likely to lead attentive listeners to seek out the other domains of the Bacewicz canon.

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