The Pearls of Polish Music - The Polish Chamber Music
Classical - Chamber
Moniuszko: String Quartet No. 1, Szymanowski: String Quartet No. 2 Op. 56, Bacewicz: String Quartet No. 4
Royal String Quartet
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Review by John Miller - April 2, 2008
This is the first of a new series within BeArtTon's 'The Pearls of Polish Music' strand. Having much enjoyed my first encounter of Poland's Royal Quartet in Zarebsky's Piano Quintet (The Pearls of Polish Music - Zarebski), I was looking forward to hearing them in their native medium. They play three quartets which illustrate the development of the form in Poland during the last two and a half centuries. The quartets have a common thread in that they all arise from native folk-song in one way or another.
Stanislaw Moniuzko (1819-1872), previously unknown to me, has been dubbed the Father of Polish Opera. Amongst his prolific compositions are operas, symphonic and choral works and piano pieces, but only two string quartets. The first quartet (1839) was composed during his studies in Berlin, and follows the traditional classic four movement structure in a Romantic vein. Although he makes no direct quotations of folk melodies, their influence is clear. This is an engaging and light-hearted work, despite its minor key, and I wish he had written more quartets. I was very intrigued by the dotted-rhythm first subject in the first movement, which bears a striking resemblance to the second part of the first subject in Chopin's E minor piano concerto (1828-30) - a common folk tune origin?
In the early C20th, the lead was taken in the Young Poland composer's group by Karel Szymanowski (1882-1937), represented here by his second quartet. This is an impressive three-movement work, again based on folk idioms which are simplified and abstracted. It offers the Royal Quartet a formidable array of string textures to relish, from rapid passages on the bridge and dissonant double-stopping to stratospheric melodic strands. They play with consummate technical assurance and commitment, achieving a Berg-like intensity, and cope with the more aggressive sections with great depth of tone.
Grazyna Bacewicz is only the second female Polish composer to reach international fame. Her fourth quartet, also in three movements, is closely concerned with the development of two lyrical folk-like tunes, displayed in an even wider range of unusual string textures, often ravishing to the ear. Again, the Royal Quartet are completely at home in her style, playing with great energy and deep concentration, at times almost sounding like a full string orchestra.
BeArtTon's studio recording is exemplary, especially in 5.0, producing a rich and detailed image of the quartet, including one or two sniffs from the leader just before great attacks. The booklet contains an informative essay on the history of the chamber music development in Poland, and notes on each of the works. Unfortunately, the only track list is inconveniently on the back panel of the disc box.
The excellent young Royal Quartet certainly are expertly promoting Polish music with these readings, which deserve much greater exposure outside Poland. I would love to hear them in main-stream classical quartets!
Until they are more widely distributed, the records can be easily obtained from BeArTon's web-site shop (http://www.bearton.pl/sklep/index.php?lang=en&value=USD) with payment in dollars or euros.
Copyright © 2008 John Miller and HRAudio.net
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