Bacewicz: Complete String Quartets – 2

The Lutoslawski Quartet Performs String Quartets Nos 2, 4 & 5

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COMPOSERS: Bacewicz
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Bacewicz: Complete String Quartets – 2
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 2, 4 & 5
PERFORMER: Lutoslawski Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572807

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Hot on the heels of Volume 1, reviewed back in November, this second instalment of Graz˙yna Bacewicz’s string quartets completes the project triumphantly. Those who already know the Lutosławskis’ superlative performances in this music will need no further encouragement, but for those coming fresh to the cycle this is perhaps the place to start. String Quartet No. 4, with which the disc opens, is with good reason one of Bacewicz’s most frequently performed works and the players relish its every detail. You would hardly know that 1951 was a tough time for Polish composers, facing the narrowing doctrines of Socialist Realism; Bacewicz’s integrity shines in this abstract work perfectly judged in its formal balance.

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An equally important work of post-war quartet literature is the Fifth. The longest of her seven quartets, it is designed on a Beethovenian scale and its qualities are all met here in a powerful account, each player digging in yet coming together with depth of tone and unanimity of purpose. For contrast, there is Quartet No. 2, high-spirited despite being composed in wartime Warsaw (it was premiered in 1943 in the artists’ cafe also frequented by Lutosławski and Panufnik). Histories of modern Polish music have tended to make Lutosławski and Panufnik, along with Górecki and Penderecki in the next generation, the heroes; but thanks to recordings such as this, Bacewicz is finally taking her rightful place as their equal. John Allison