Lutoslawski Quartet

Grazyna Bacewicz: Complete String Quartets, Vol. 1

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The seven string quartets of Grazyna Bacewicz in a way represent a continuation of the six of Bartók, beginning with the student String Quartet No. 1 of 1939 that uses folk rhythms in a Bartókian way. Bacewicz's style encompassed the major compositional movements of the middle 20th century, but she had a distinctively conservative way of applying them: most of the individual movements reflect traditional forms, and the quartets as a whole are all in three or four movements in something like the usual pattern, with formally variegated opening, some kind of slow movement, and upbeat, jocular finales. This is true even in the partially serialist String Quartet No. 6 of 1960, a work that Bacewicz herself testified to having trouble with, and the dissonant String Quartet No. 7 of 1965, where the structural burden is borne by unusual instrumental techniques. Perhaps the most satisfying piece of the bunch in the String Quartet No. 3 of 1947, an enthusiastic work in which highly polyphonic structure seems to destabilize the folk-music underpinning. Bacewicz has emerged as one of the mid-century composers who most easily reconciled traditional forms with modernist trends, but she remains only inconsistently known in the West. This release from the highly qualified Lutoslawski Quartet, along with its planned successor covering the rest of Bacewicz's music, should help address the lack of knowedge. A chronological approach might also have been appropriate, but as things stand, the buyer who chooses either volume will get an idea of the ways in which Bacewicz's style changed.

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