Krzysztof Meyer’s Chamber Music

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MEYER: Canzona for Cello & Piano. Imaginary Variations for Violin & Piano. Moment Musical for Solo Cello. Misterioso for Violin & Piano. Piano Trio / Poznań Piano Trio: Laura Kluwak-Sobolewska, pno; Anna Ziółkowska, vln; Monika Baranowska, cel / Naxos 8.573500

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MEYER: Piano Quartet. Piano Quintet* / Silesian String Qrt; Szymon Krzeszowiec, vln I; *Arkadiusz Kubica, vln II; Łukasz Surnicki, vla; Piotr Janosik, cel; Piotr Sałajczyk, pno / Naxos 8.573357

Having been impressed by Krzysztof Meyer’s Sixth Symphony and Piano Concerto, I decided to investigate other pieces by him, and boy, have I found a lot! About the only piece I didn’t like was his Fifth Symphony—just too fragmented for me, and it says nothing—but much of his other music has impressed me so I’m going to review it.

Meyer clearly has his own way of writing music, and what impressed me the most was that he does not have but one “voice” as a composer. The Canzona for cello & piano, for instance, opens quite lyrically and tonally, although you can tell from the ominous single bass notes played by the pianist under the cello’s opening statement that this is not a “song” that is all sweetness and light. There is at least a shade of darkness to this canzone, and as we move from the lyrical opening to the quicker, busier middle section, Meyer has the cellist alternate between bowed and pizzicato figures, which adds another shade of uneasiness to the proceedings. Before we even reach the halfway point, in fact, the music becomes even faster and louder, with the cellist playing edgy bowed figures that are quite menacing indeed, being in a minor mode. It’s quite a piece, with Meyer packing quite a bit of emotion and darkness into a mere 10 minutes’ worth of music.

Meyer had this to say in the liner notes about his Imaginary Variations:

this composition is structured in a similar way to Classical variation form, and the audience can hear the constant changes to the musical ideas. In reality, however, the twelve short sections of the work are not true variations, even though they display some connections and similarities.

This work is, on the whole, more atonal than the Canzona but not at all in the 12-tone style; rather, it combines tonal and atonal elements although leaning more towards the latter, and the tempi and rhythms of these “imaginary variations” are different enough from each other to make the piece interesting as well as attractive. In one “variation,” Meyer has the violin play some atonal pizzicato figures against the pointillistic piano part, both in an opposing rhythm to the other. By contract, the next one is quite lyrical; then he changes things once again. By contrast, the Moment Musical for solo cello is primarily edgy with occasional lyric moments. Darkness is again a feature of this piece, almost ferocious at times in its fast bowed passages. Needless to say, Meyer’s Misterioso lives up to its name, with the violin snaking its way through the music like a malevolent spider.

Of course, the Piano Trio is the fullest piece on this CD, and here Meyer combined a number of his trademark sounds and techniques while still respecting the older piano trio form. One strange feature of this piece is its edgy “slow” movement, titled “Andante inquieto,” in which he almost makes the menacing cello tremolos sound like a sort of alien raccoon waiting to attack you in your basement. The “Allegretto capriccioso” consists of soft, bouncing violin pizzicato in minor modes set against occasional piano thumps and sinister held notes by the cello.

Moving on to the piano quartet and quintet, one hears a similar manipulation of the musical material and again the music vacillates between tonal and atonal (sometimes simply bitonal). The quartet is unusual in that it was written as a single movement lasting nearly 25 minutes. The notes tell us that musical unity is given to this work via a process of constant variation, but of course whatever a composer does from a technical standpoint is only of interest to a musician or a musicologist. It’s how the music sounds to you and affects you that counts, and Meyer frequently scores over his colleague and teacher Penderecki because his music is more understandable to lay listeners as well as not always trying to sound ugly all the time. As Rafael Kubelik once said, he was suspicious of any music that was just an intellectual exercise because it didn’t touch the heart. Meyer’s music does both. I also love the way Meyer introduces complex cross-rhythms and syncopations in his music, which sometimes fool the ear.

I was also surprised, in the piano quintet, by his using sliding microtones in one passage of this first movement, which reminded me of Julián Carrillo. Meyer is clearly a versatile composer who thinks outside the box. Being the longest work of those included in this review, it is, of course, a much more complex piece, but again the point is the feeling and emotion he pours into his work and not just the medium which carries it. Meyer is clearly a great composer, and it’s a shame that his work isn’t half as well known as Penderecki’s outside of his native Poland.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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

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