Jablonski’s Brilliant Bacewicz

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BACEWICZ: Concert Krakowiak. 10 Concert Etudes. 2 Etudes on Double Notes. Piano Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 / Peter Jablonski, pno / Ondine 1399-2

When I reviewed Lithuanian pianist Morta Gringaliūnaite’s album of Bacewicz’s piano music in April of 2019, I was absolutely blown away by the power and depth of her performances and could not imagine anyone else’s recordings being any better. But I was wrong. This new album by Swedish pianist Peter Jablonski is not only as good, but even better.

The reason it is better has, of course, something to do with Jablonski’s playing, which has all of Gringaliūnaite’s power and energy but also more sweep, but a good part of its superiority lies in the sonics. Gringaliūnaite’s CD had a very clear sonic profile, with bright sound and the piano quite forward in the soundspace, but Jablonski’s recording has all this plus a richer, warmer sound. This gives the listener the illusion of almost hearing Jablonski playing in one’s living room, and this in itself makes the CD more enjoyable on a technical level.

Of the two programs played by both artists, there are only a couple of differences. Gringaliūnaite included the Little Triptych and Trois pieces caractéristiques but not the Piano Sonata No.1. Jablonski omits those two smaller (but no less interesting) works but includes the first sonata.

Also included in this booklet is a wonderful quote from the composer herself, something I had never read before but which I applaud and fully endorse:

I possess this little unseen engine, and thanks to it I accomplish a task in ten minutes which takes others an hour or more; I normally do not walk but run; I speak fast; even my pulse beats faster than others’ and I was born in the seventh month [two months early]…slow and phlegmatic people make me sick. I was born for action, not for empty talk, so I hate any sort of meetings and empty talk. I have always hated any sort of interviews and the same questions repeated by some silly male journalists which run: can a woman be a composer? Can a woman be a full-blooded composer? Should a woman composer get married? Should a woman composer have children? I used to run away from them, but in private I will tell you: a woman endowed with creative powers can be a composer. She can get married, have children and travel extensively all over the world giving concerts. There is only on little essential needed: “motorek…[little engine]”— without it don’t bother. (Quoted in: B. Maciejewski, Twelve Polish Composers, 1976)

Listening to some of Bacewicz’ music, such as the Concert Etude No. 4, one realizes that she was probably the modern-day Schubert or Reger, a composer who wrote a great deal of music, much of it in a short span of time. Of course I haven’t heard her full oeuvre—I’m not sure that all of it has been recorded—but from the pieces I have heard there seems to have been one difference between Bacewicz and Schubert/Reger, and that is that she had a filter to discard uninteresting or mediocre works, because every single piece of music I have heard by her is a masterpiece or something very close to one. In other words, she apparently didn’t write any trifles, as even such geniuses as Beethoven and Stravinsky did. Every note she put down on paper, at least those that have been recorded, had integrity and was meaningful.

What I also find fascinating about Bacewicz is that her musical aesthetic seems to have been forged more out of 20th-century Eastern European composers like Bartók, Martinů, Wellesz and Kenins than on other Polish composers. Even such a transcendent genius as Szymanowski, whose music was built on a foundation of late Debussy and Scriabin, seems to not have affected her. Whereas Szymanowski often changed or transcended traditional Polish rhythms in his music, even in his mazurkas, Bacewicz embraced them (e.g., the Concert Korakowiak), but her penchant for bitonal harmony always changed them around and subtly subverted listeners’ expectations. Moreover, I also find it interesting that she managed to avoid much influence from Stravinsky. I say this simply because so many 20th-century composers WERE influenced by either Stravinsky or Schoenberg, the two giants (though polar opposites) of their time. The fact that Bacewicz managed to consciously avoid their influence speaks volumes for her always trying to be her own person in her music.

Thus it is easy to hear Bacewicz as the link between more traditional Polish classical music and the music of Lutosławski, who was both her friend and deeply admired her, as well as Penderecki and those who followed him. At the same time, however, Bacewicz remains unique. Even in her quietest pieces, there is nothing soft, mushy or romantic about her. She was a perfect fusion of intellect and emotion, both operating on a high level at all times.

Jablonski, like Gringaliūnaite before him, cuts to the chase in her music. Neither one of them softens her musical message or holds anything back, and what I particularly found interesting about Jablonski’s performances is that nearly all of them are taken at somewhat slower tempi than Gringaliūnaite’s, yet do not sound slower. I tried to process this as I was listening, and the best I can explain it is that Jablonski’s penchant (like hers) of pressing the tempo forward as he plays covers the slightly less speedy pace by eliminating any moments of unnecessary relaxation. It is an extraordinary accomplishment, a tour-de-force, if you will, of mind over matter, and a bit of a paradox. Even within his more “relaxed” tempi, there is no relaxation. He maintains the restless qualities of Bacewicz even as he makes her music slightly more lyrical.

Clearly an outstanding album in every way. I was very deeply impressed.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@Artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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