The Ãtma Quartet Plays 20th-Century Polish Works

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SZYMANOWSKI: String Quartet No. 2. PANUFNIK: String Quartet No. 3, “Paper Cuts.” PENDERECKI: String Quartet No. 3, “Leaves of an Unwritten Diary” / Ãtma Quartet / CD Accord ACD 252-2

The very talented Ãtma Quartet presents here three works by modern-minded Polish composers, starting with Karol Szymanowski and ending with Krzysztof Penderecki, who is still with us. Although I am very fond of the Quatuor Joachim’s recordings of both Szymanowski quartets on the Calliope label, this one has wonderful atmosphere as well as acute attention to detail. It’s the kind of performance that sweeps you up in its path and does not prod you into looking for comparative versions because you sense that something is amiss with it. There is elegance and drama galore in their interpretation, which also has considerable sweep.

Next up is the String Quartet No. 3 of Andrzej Panufnik, a composer strongly influenced by both Szymanowski and Grazyna Bacewicz. I confess to not knowing ant of his music prior to hearing this work, which begins with a fairly steady drone on a D with little gestures coming in and out. When the music finally settles in, we hear a bitonal melody very much in the Bacewicz style, elegantly crafted and again with gestures from the cello to complement the violins and viola. At 1:06 it becomes more agitated, but only briefly before settling back down. The development, in double time, includes much pizzicato as well as a “snapping” of strings. The music has good form but, to my ears, doesn’t say much until the very fast “Prestissimo possible” movement with its edgy rhythm and driving cello figures. The “Adagio sostenuto” is also pretty interesting.

The finale is the third String Quartet of Penderecki, a composer who usually annoys me, but this work was written during his “second period” when he began to turn away from the purposely ugly music of such works as The Devils of Loudon. Began to, but didn’t quite; just around the two-minute mark we hear edgy and quite abrasive music. In the second half we reach an ugly sort of moto perpetuo that is exciting in its drive but not appealing at all. It is, however, better constructed than his earlier works, and develops in an interesting manner. It’s the kind of work that I found somewhat interesting but would not willingly sit through a second time.

So there you have it. A mixed bag insofar as the music goes but all of it extremely well played and emotionally engaged.

—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley

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