Grazyna Bacewicz: Piano works (Ondine)

One would never imagine Stalinist oppression was raging all around her

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Every time I relisten to Bacewicz, I wonder whether prejudice does not have something to do with her lack of exposure. Her male colleague were always careful to praise her. But Lutoslawski, when he talks of “her integrity, honesty, compassion and her willingness to share and sacrifice for others”, is a man describing female qualities not a composer assessing a co-equal.

This is art not so much as escapism but as transcendence

They elected Bacewicz vice-president of the Polish Composers’ Union, but she didn’t get much glory. On a trip to Armenia in January 1969, she caught the flu, took too many antibiotics to keep up with her schedule and died, aged 59. We still don’t hear nearly enough of her.

The Swedish-Polish pianist Peter Jablonski has pitched in with an array of piano works, each formed with an almost surreal awareness of structure. The two sonatas of 1949 and 1953 are so self-immersed that one cannot begin to imagine the Stalinist oppression that was raging all around her. This is art not so much as escapism but as transcendence. Bacewicz invites us into a safe space.

Ten etudes of the mid-1950s are a bit allegro Bartoko Poles and Hungarians live together on the piano like Chopin and Liszt. But a 1949 Concerto Krakowiak is a total delight, deluding Communist censors with a deliciously subtle deconstruction of a workers’ and peasants’ folk melody. Listen to this little piece and you think, this woman could have done anything she liked in music.

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