Polish strings

Grazyna Bacewicz: Symphonies 3 &4; Concerto for string orchestra (both on Chandos)

Lebrecht's Album of the Week


I am starting to think that Grażyna Bacewicz might be the next Mieczyslaw Weinberg. Forgive me, non-Polophones, if the names are had to pronounce, but if you’ve got used to Szymanowski and Paderewski down the years you can certainly live with this pair. Weinberg fled to Russia in 1939 and became the composer closest to Shostakovich, albeit under-performed. He emerged from the shadows in the 1990s and is now deemed indispensable. Weinberg’s opera, The Passenger, has played in major capitals and his symphonies are bursting forth on record.

Bacewicz, who died in 1969, trod water under Polish Communism and saw her music eclipsed by the authorised forces of Lutoslawski and Penderecki. Post-Communism brought about a flutter of renewed interest.

Sakari Oramo’s interpretation of two Stalin-era symphonies, written in 1952-3, goes a bit agit-prop in the noisy bits where the BBC Symphony brass burst a few buttons. But the andante of the third symphony and the two adagios of the fourth are wonderfully introspective passages, a private zone where Bacewicz expresses dark and disturbing emotions. Alban Berg’s Lulu lurks somewhere in the score, as does Bartok’s Bluebeard, but the totality is pure Bacewicz. I cannot imagine why the BBC Symphony don’t perform these in the Proms (I can, of course, but that’s another story).

John Wilson, whose Sinfonia of London cannot play badly if you bribed it with fruit gums, has paired Bacewicz’s concerto for string orchestra on an album with works by string composers Enescu and Ysaye. If I assure you that Bacewicz’s 1948 score comes out by far the most vibrant and vigorous you might start to believe, like me, that Grażyna is a frontline composer who demands to be heard now and forever. Once more, it’s the quiet andante that grips the attention but the full 13 minutes is a musical world entire and it’s one you will surely want to explore.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover