ALBUM TITLE: Bacewicz
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 1, 3, 6 & 7
PERFORMER: Lutoslawski Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572806
Grazyna Bacewicz’s seven string quartets stand tall in the repertoire of 20th-century chamber music, worthy of comparison with works by more famous composers of the period. But in Poland they occupy the very highest place, especially since in the period after the Second World War it was Bacewicz who almost single-handedly kept the genre alive there. Under the Soviet-imposed strictures of socialist realism, chamber music – lacking potential as a propaganda tool – was positively discouraged, yet Bacewicz found a way of speaking with not only her own stylistic identity but also absolute artistic integrity. A violinist herself who in the pre-war years had led the newly formed Polish Radio Orchestra, Bacewicz wrote for strings with complete mastery, and in the first of their two volumes devoted to her quartets, the young players of the Lutosławski Quartet relish all the possibilities of these works.
Superbly recorded, the Lutosławskis project with presence and warmth, bringing out the deep humanity of the String Quartet No. 1. Composed in 1938, the same year as Shostakovich’s First, at its heart there is a haunting set of variations on a Lithuanian folk song (Bacewicz’s father was Lithuanian). Her final quartet, written in 1965, four years before her death, confirms the modernist credentials already shown in the partly serial Sixth. But the Sixth also bears traces of that neo-classicism so strongly felt in the Third, a work that carries itself along with bittersweet and cheeky insouciance. John Allison