David Green

David Green (Books) is the imprint under which I publish booklets of my own poems, when there are sufficient of them. Apart from that, the website has become what it is. I hope you find at least some of it worthwhile.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Bacewicz String Quartets

Grazyna Bacewicz, Complete String Quartets (Chandos)



If you're going to get something wrong you might as well get it completely wrong. I knew of this disc but couldn't have investigated very far because I'd jumped somewhat too readily to the conclusion that it was a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn. It must have been the architecture that made me think so but only a little bit more closer inspection reveals a bus of a make and model that wouldn't have been familiar to them.
Seven quartets on two discs, covering 1938 to 1965, can't help but bring to mind Shostakovich who made time among his wide-ranging output for an iconic set of his own. And Grazyna is, of course, a lady and so very welcome to help with the impossible project of trying to bring some levelling to the massive gender imbalance in the Western classical music canon. In a presentation on Classical Music that I have half planned in case the opportunity comes up to give it, I have to include the caveat that although I'll go back to Hildegaard of Bingen and finish with Errollyn Wallen, I'm afraid there aren't many women in it and, yes, it is mostly German men in powdered wigs.
This is busy, adventurous music, at least at the forefront if not avant garde for its time. Not quite as adventurous as this, maybe, which I found absolutely riveting on Sky Arts last night,















but adventurous enough for most of us.
It is complex music and 'difficult', I dare say, but two discs of it on which the Silesian Quartet bring an admirable clarity will last a long time to keep going back to. It can be discomfiting, agitated,  nervily spring-heeled or darkly reflective. Poland in that period had reason to feel that way and it's not possible to expect them to have dwelt too long meditating on larks ascending.
It was only when this disc won its category in the Gramophone awards that I realized what it was and the inevitable eulogy that wrote it up was an offer one couldn't refuse. Having not known who Bacewicz was, I do now and she is in there with the Ligeti, Kurtag and others who represent the heroic line of concentrated, meaningful modernism as opposed to the cerebral doodling of Boulez. It contrasts almost diametrically with the other disc currently on the playlist, the wonderful, immediately accessible Sebastian Comberti Stephen Paxton sonatas and concerto for violoncello. That is an instant delight and welcome relief whereas Bacewicz is more likely to sound true but be harder to take. But both are recommended as elements of a balanced diet.
I'm very glad the Silesian Quartet won the prize for this because otherwise I'd never have known and I'd have gone about under the erroneous assumption that she was a Polish contemporary of Mozart that, on this occasion, I'd declined to listen to.
I've managed to fill out the requisite number of words without saying very much about the music. Which is clever of me. With much avant garde art it is best to say as little as possible but one usually knows whether one likes it or not and I like this a lot. I hope it remains off the shelf and by the CD machine long enough for me to appreciate it better and better although whether I'll ever be humming leitmotifs from it in the office in the same way that the compositions of Burt Bacharach, the Motown Hit Factory or, today it was briefly Roy Wood, is a point likely to be moot for some time.
The next project is to make a conscious effort to know the difference between Zelenka and Zemlinsky. They only belong together alphabetically and a Wigmore Hall sort of bloke really ought to know which is which otherwise, next time I go, that might be the question they ask on the door and I might not get in.