BACEWICZ: Piano Sonata (1930). Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2. 2 Études. Concert Étude / Joanna Sochacka, pno / Dux 1689
Joanna Sochacka, who does a good job of hiding her birth date online, appears to be a Polish pianist in her 30s. On this disc she plays the fascinating music of Grazyna Bacewick, one of many women composers who deserves to be better known…certainly better known than the now-ubiquitous Florence B. Price, whose music was nicely constructed but utterly conventional and unoriginal.
Sochacka opens up her recital with the somewhat better known of Bacewicz’ numbered piano sonatas, the second, in an amazingly powerful and hypnotic performance. I have a recording of this work on Piano Classics by Morta Grigaliunaite, and it’s a fine one, but Sochacka’s playing is even stronger and the phrasing tighter. For me, this is one of the truly great 20th century piano sonatas, and why it is not played even more often than it is baffles me. But then again, Bacewicz’ spiky harmonies and bitonality clearly won’t sell to the millions of people who listen to classical radio stations hoping to chill out with Chopin or relax with Rachmaninov. Hearing the sonata again is almost like hearing it for the first time; it is so fascinating and so full of interesting musical ideas that one almost gets lost in its complexity.
Interestingly, Sochacka caresses the equally bitonal “Largo” as if it were a lullaby to her child—except, of course, for the louder, spikier music in the middle of the movement, which she deftly weaves into the legato flow of the music. She is clearly a pianist who knows what she is about, and I’m exceedingly grateful to her that she has chosen to play good contemporary music and not the same-old-same-old that every other pianist plays.
The first of Bacewicz’ two Études from 1952 is a gentle piece with an attractive if elusive theme, and again Sochacka plays it well. The second is brisk and playful, a welcome relief from the composer’s usually complex and harmonically thorny style.
The first numbered piano sonata, dating from 1949, is already is Bacewicz’ mature style although less shockingly dramatic than the second. Here, Sochacka creates a nice musical flow that does not ignore the inherent drama in certain passages. I would say that the first sonata is more lyrical than the second, but within that lyricism Bacewicz created some mysterious passages that lead the listener into her musical labyrinth.
The last two works on this disc are recorded here for the first time. I really liked the 1949 Concert Étude, in which Bacewicz employs some fast, running scales and arpeggios in the right hand, sometimes within the standard scale and sometimes pentatonic. The early piano sonata from 1930, written when the composer was 21, is an interesting piece although the composer didn’t much like it and so didn’t give it an opus number. I found it quite interesting, actually, certainly better than all the romantic sonatas we hear ad infinitum nowadays.
This is clearly an interesting disc as well as a valuable one for Bacewicz collectors. Brava, Joanna!
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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