Vol. 1 of Bacewicz Symphonies Released

Entwürfe cpo-Cover Oktober 2022_cover.indd

WAP 2022BACEWICZ: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4 / WDR Sinfonieorchester; Łukasz Borowicz, cond / CPO 555 556-2

It seems almost incredible that, although there were sporadic recordings of Grazyna Bacewicz’ music in the past, most of the recordings and attention she has received have come in the past decade. Prior to that, she was a respected but somewhat shadowy figure in the world of music. Today, I would say that, at least on records, she is a major force to be reckoned with.

The good news about this release is that it is listed as Vol. 1 of her complete symphonic works, which means that we will surely be graced by more CDs in the future. The bad news, so to speak, is that the series starts with Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4, which were already recorded 28 years ago by Roland Bader with the Krakow Philharmonic for Koch International and are available for free streaming on You Tube.

Nonetheless, these works are so good that having alternate recordings of them is a plus and not a minus, and if anything the sharpness and clarity of these new recordings supersede those of Bader. In addition, Borowicz’ tempi are generally quicker than Bader’s except for the slow movements, which he takes at a pace closer to “Largo” than “Andante,” but as it turns out, he’s right and Bader is wrong. The second movement, written in 6/4 time, is marked in her score as quarter note=56, and this is exactly how Borowicz plays it.

Interestingly, Borowicz’ phrasing within the fast movements is broader than Bader’s…but as it turns out, this too is correct. In many places in the score, Bacewicz marked her music as “poco meno mosso,” which literally means “a little less motion.” So for all intents and purposes, tempi as well as phrasing, Borowicz gives you what Bacewicz wrote.

And he certainly conducts this music with energy. The winds and brass practically leap out of your speakers, creating a sound world in which an almost manic energy is fused with elegance and, at times, mystery. As it turns out, the (correct) slower pace of the third symphony’s “Andante” gives the soft string pizzicato passages a feeling that I like to refer to as “sneakin’ around music,” a feeling which Bader, at his much faster tempo, cannot bring out of the orchestra.

Thus I give this recording an A+ in every respect: following the score directions, getting under the skin of the music emotionally, and generally presenting a dynamic, exciting performance. To cite Toscanini’s old saying, “Is like reading the score!” And as I mentioned earlier, the sound quality is utterly fantastic.

Interestingly, although the Third and Fourth Symphonies were written very close together in time, Bacewicz found entirely new things to say in the fourth. The general outlines are similar, but the end result is an even more dynamic work than the third. There are less rubato passages in the Fourth, and even the slow movement has more rhythmic impulse to it. The mood here is also different from the slow movement of the third, not to mention her orchestration choices. This is less of a mysterious movement and more of a menacing one. And, as pointed out in the liner notes, her theme for the third-movement “Scherzo” is even more like folk music than its predecessor while its instrumentation, leaning heavily on high winds (piccolo, flute and clarinet) add a wryly humorous quality to the music. Even the finale has more bite and drive than in the Third Symphony, good as it is.

For those unfortunates who haven’t heard any of Bacewicz’ symphonies, their style lay somewhere in between Bartók (who she clearly admired) and Shostakovich, yet with a personal “voice” and style all her own. She was clearly one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, and the fact that her music is not played frequently in symphonic concerts while Mozart and Beethoven are done to death speaks volumes for the artistic inadequacies of the classical music world and its attitudes towards its audiences. “Yeah, just keep playing the old-timey stuff and we’ll keep selling tickets.” But why?? There are SO many excellent recordings of the old stuff, many of them in excellent stereo or digital versions, that going to so-and-so’s concert to hear yet another rendition of them is the musical equivalent of hitting yourself over the head with a mallet because it feels good when you stop.

I give the very highest recommendation to this one.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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