Thursday, June 15, 2017

Grażyna Bacewicz - Violin Concertos Nos. 1, 3 & 7 (Joanna Kurkowicz)


Composer: Grażyna Bacewicz
  1. Violin Concerto No. 7: I. Tempo mutabile
  2. Violin Concerto No. 7: II. Largo
  3. Violin Concerto No. 7: III. Allegro
  4. Violin Concerto No. 3: I. Allegro molto moderato
  5. Violin Concerto No. 3: II. Andante
  6. Violin Concerto No. 3: III. Vivo
  7. Violin Concerto No. 1: I. Allegro
  8. Violin Concerto No. 1: II. Andante (molto espressivo)
  9. Violin Concerto No. 1: III. Vivace
  10. Overture

Joanna Kurkowicz, violin
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Łukasz Borowicz, conductor

Date: 2009
Label: Chandos



The recorded works of Grazyna Bacewicz (1909–1969) consist almost entirely of compositions for violin in various combinations, with a few piano pieces thrown in for good measure. Violinist Joanna Kurkowicz has contributed to that catalog three of Bacewicz’s seven violin concertos, conductor Lukasz Borowicz having suggested (according to Kurkowicz) the Overture as a companion piece. (Several years ago, Kurkowicz released a collection of Bacewicz’s violin sonatas—No. 4, No. 5, and No. 2—and short pieces—Oberek No. 1, Partita, Capriccio, and Polish Capriccio —with pianist Gloria Cheng on Chandos 10250.)

The program opens with the last of the three concertos, No. 7, from 1965. Despite its modernity, this Concerto has been tailor-made for the violin by its violinist-composer. So no matter how colorful or impressionistic its orchestration, the solo always maintains equality of interest. The entire work, divided into the traditional three movements, lasts just a bit less than 22 minutes, with the cadenza in the first—a movement almost eight-minutes in length—arriving it seems almost before the Concerto has gotten underway, so firmly does the interplay of capricious melody and texture hold the listener’s interest. The comparisons in the notes with Szymanowski’s First Concerto hardly seem out of place, although Bacewicz appears to have wandered farther along that path than did the earlier composer. Fairy-like sonorities and eerie timbres predominate in the second movement, with textures suddenly piling up and then as suddenly dispersing. The third movement begins with a commanding orchestral statement, but the violin launches into almost manic figuration. Joanna Kurkowicz seems particularly comfortable breathing these rarified atmospheres, and Borowicz brings a kind of preternatural clarity to the sprinkles of orchestral stardust. The engineers have captured both the detail and the lithe tone of Kurkowicz’s 1699 Pietro Giovanni Guarneri.

The Third Concerto, from 1948 (Kurkowicz and Borowicz play them in reverse order), remains closer to traditional tonality, though the violinistic figuration often suggests the kind of pulverization listeners will remember from the Seventh Concerto. Nevertheless, the orchestral parts have a cinematic sweep, with Romantic expressivity echoing through its basic modernity. (If the Seventh Concerto recalls Berg and Szymanowski, this one sounds in some ways closer to Korngold!) Once again, despite the difference in style, the cadenza arrives almost before it seems the movement has gotten fully underway. And the movement ends with a bang, not, as in the Seventh Concerto, with a whimper. Adrian Thomas’s notes trace the slow movement’s lyricism to what Bacewicz identified as a little-known song, sung at first simply before rising to heights of dramatic expression. The jaunty finale (the notes identify a dance-like Tatra Mountains motif), provides—as did the first movement—a harmonic and melodic background for the frequently frantic figuration, though nostalgia haunts the Meno that precedes the dance’s final appearance.

The 12-odd-minutes First Concerto, from 1937, combines motoric scramble with poignant reflection in its first movement, a lyricism that foreshadows the out-of-focus harmonic schemes of the Third Concerto in its second movement (which strays farther toward its end), and a sprightly finale. The tumultuous Overture, from 1943, rhythmic and complex (compare an exhilarating rhythmic fugue by Karl Amadeus Hartmann), provides an exhilarating conclusion to the collection. The orchestra plays it with a combination of exuberant abandon and disciplined clarity.

Kurkowicz’s suggestion in the booklet that these works deserve a wider reputation appears to be more than mere puffery. Imaginative texturally, harmonically, melodically—and not least, violinistically—they certainly deserve the kind of sympathetic performances that Kurkowicz and Borowicz give them. If Bacewicz seems in these riveting, strongly appealing works more a composer-violinist than a violinist-composer, many will doubtless consider that designation to redound to her credit. Strongly recommended.

-- Robert Maxham, FANFARE

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Grażyna Bacewicz (5 February 1909 – 17 January 1969) was a Polish composer and violinist. She is only the second Polish female composer to have achieved national and international recognition, the first being Maria Szymanowska in the early 19th century. Bacewicz studied with teachers such as Nadia Boulanger and Carl Flesch, among others. After completing her studies, Bacewicz took part in numerous events as a soloist, composer, and jury member. Many of her compositions feature the violin. Among them are seven violin concertos, five sonatas for violin with piano, three for violin solo and four numbered symphonies.


Joanna Kurkowicz (born 1970 in Lublin, Lubelskie, Poland) is a Polish violinist. Praised in Gramophone Magazine for "disciplined virtuosity", Kurkowicz enjoys an active and versatile career as an award-winning soloist, recitalist, chamber musician and concertmistress. She currently serves as concertmistress of the Boston Philharmonic and the Berkshire Symphony. A strong advocate of contemporary music, Kurkowicz has premiered among others works by G. Schuller, R. Shapey, P. Ruders, D. Kechley and G. Bacewicz. She plays on a Petrus Guarnerius violin dated from 1699.


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