Danowicz & the Atom String Quartet Return

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MADE IN POLAND / LUBOWICZ: Ballad on the Death of Janosik. SZYMANOWSKI-TOGNETTI: String Quartet No. 2, arr. for String Orchestra. SZYMANOWSKI-KOCHAŃSKI: Harnasie: Highlander Dance.* LENCZOWSKI: Iława for Improvising Quartet & String Orchestra. Namyslowiak. BACEWICZ: Concerto for Strings. M. GÓRECKI: Concerto-Notturno for Violin & String Orchestra* / Atom String Qrt; NFM Leopoldinum Chamber Orch.; Christian Danowicz, *vln/cond / Dux 1298

This CD seems to be not merely a follow-up to the superb Dux release Supernova, which I reviewed earlier this month, but in fact a sister-disc that could have been issued with the former as a 2-CD set. The one difference is that Supernova featured only one work by a composer not affiliated with the Atom String Quartet, that being Hanna Kulenty-Majoor’s Concerto Rosso, while here we have no less than four works by other, well-respected Polish composers: two by Karol Szymanowski and one each by Grażyna Bacewicz and Mikołaj Górecki (the only one of these composers who is still with us). Yet the feeling and drive of all of these performances are driven not only by the quartet, which takes part in three of the seven works presented here, but also by conductor Christian Danowicz who led the same orchestra on Supernova.

Indeed, with Dawid Lubowicz’ Ballad on the Death of Janosik, with its driving, almost fusion-like rhythms, we seem to be smack in the midst of the Supernova CD once again. Despite the scoring for the full string section, it is the Atom String Quartet which again takes center stage, playing with their customary drive and inventiveness. If anything, the Atom Quartet plays with even more energy than their American counterparts. My sole complaint of the piece was that the themes sounded too much like “movie music” to me.

Next, however, are the two Szymanowski works. Although I am no fan of string quartets or other chamber pieces arranged for full orchestra, this one works fairly well, in part because the arranger (identified as Richard Tognetti) kept all of Szymanowski’s intricate interplay of the quartet in moving it over to a full string orchestra as well as emulating the composer’s textures that he used in his symphonies. This is followed by the Highlander Dance from Szymanowski’s ballet Harnasie in an arrangement by conductor Christian Danowicz, who also plays the violin solos here.

Krzysztof Lenczowski’s Ilawa for Improvising String Quartet & String Orchestra is a sad elegy, very tonal and, for my taste, a bit too sentimental, but it is played well. Bacewicz’ Concerto for String Orchestra is a more vigorous piece and well-constructed, but its themes are relatively tame and, to my ears, uninteresting until the last movement, which is a peppy Vivo using some interesting, skittering figures for the strings.

I liked Lenczowski’s second piece, Namyslowiak, much better than the first. The tempo is up, the rhythms are irregular, and the Atom String Quartet really goes to town on it. This one is a real gem; around 5:38, the rhythm changes to a sort of one-legged polka. In a really strange change of musical scene, we end with the slow, somewhat mystical music of Górecki—not the famous Henryk, who died in 2010, but his son Mikołaj. He shares with his father a penchant for creating slow-moving pieces in a resolutely tonal style. The first movement of the Concerto-Notturno is a bit on the sentimental side, which I didn’t much care for, but the second is energetic and interesting and the finale, though marked “Molto lento,” is a far more interesting piece than the first movement.

A somewhat mixed bag, then; some pieces quite interesting, some a bit edgy, and a couple of sentimental tunes.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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