Grażyna Bacewicz Violin Concertos Nos 2, 4 and 5

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Grażyna Bacewicz
Violin Concertos Nos 2, 4 and 5.

Joanna Kurkowicz violin
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Lukasz Borowicz conductor
Chandos 10673 (2011)

premiere recordings

1-3 Concerto No. 4 for Violin and Orchestra (1951)
4-6 Concerto No. 5 for Violin and Orchestra (1954)
7-9 Concerto No.2 for Violin and Orchestra (1945)

DIAPASON 5 AWARD, October 2011
DISC OF THE MONTH, Chandos Records (July 2011)
“These works are like rare stones. You have to find them but once found they shine brilliantly.”

The recording is currently available at CHANDOS Records website, iTunes, Presto Classical,Amazon and Music Island.

Featured reviews:

Alluring accounts of three concertos by a Polish composer- violinist

“As in her first release in this series featuring concertos No. 1, 3, 7 (no.6 remains in manuscript form only), Joanna Kurkowicz proves the ideal exponent of these impassioned scores. She propels the music’s many passages of vivacious brilliance with virtuoso elan, retaining absolute tonal focus and immaculate coordination in even the most challenging of sequences. Yet what makes the deepest impression is her golden-toned sincerity in the slow movements, where she soars aloft with a cantabile radiance of ravishing allure. Lukasz Borowicz and Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra sound equally captivated by Bacewicz’s exuberant invention, and the sumptuous yet detailed engineering is beyond reproach.”
—STRAD MAGAZINE, Julian Haylock

“This is superb follow -up to Joanna’s Kurkowicz first disc of the Violin Concertos by Grazyna Bacewicz….played with fire and passion… Anyone who loves the concertos  of Szymanowski, Bloch, Martinu or Bartok will surely adore these works.”
—BBC MUSIC: ***** Performance ***** Sound

“Kurkowicz is a highly accomplished soloist with an expressive style of playing and virtuosity to burn when it’s required. She’s well matched by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra under their Artistic Director Łukasz Borowicz, and the engineering is excellent in every way. All in all, it’s difficult to imagine a more persuasive argument being made for the music of Bacewicz.”
, Robert Johnson

” Joanna Kurkowicz plays with zest and the Polish Radio Orchestra are terrific.”
—LA SCENA MUSICALE, Norman Lebrecht

“Violinst Joanna Kurkowicz does us all a great service by resurrecting these unjustly neglected works. Not only that, but she is a first-class virtuoso with technique to spare, and an obvious love and exceptional feel for this music. Be sure to read her informative performer’s note in the album booklet to get a much better appreciation and understanding of a woman composer whose time for rediscovery has hopefully come.

Under conductor Lukasz Borowicz, the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra join her in making a strong case for everything here. With their deft handling of these challenging scores, they prove what an accomplished group of musicians they are.

Like their Australian counterparts, the Polish audio engineers have over the past few years given us an increasing number of superb commercial recordings, and this one is no exception! The sonics are simply spectacular, projecting a spacious soundstage in a nourishing venue.

Ms. Kurkowicz’ string tone is silky smooth, and the orchestral timbre, totally natural over the entire frequency spectrum. And that’s considerable due to the large number and variety of colorful instruments present. In that regard, the highlighting of the violinist as well as the numerous solo instrumental groups that pop up is immaculate.”

Music ***** Sound *****
— FONO FORUM, Giselher Schubert

“…Not only Kurkowicz but the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra and conductor Lukasz Borowicz clearly love this music. Their impassioned performances have been beautifully recorded at Polish Radio’s Withold Lutoslawski Concert Hall in Warsaw…”

” There’s a huge paradox here. Bacewicz is widely known in her native Poland, and in fact the country issued a stamp in 2009 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of her birth. And yet these violin concertos, uniformly magnificent, are here being recorded only for the first time. The style is simultaneously sensuous and dynamic, a sort of Slavish version of Erich Korngold, but far more inventive, adventurous and thrilling. Immediately you listen to them you feel that you want to hear them over and over again. I’d go further. Mozart has six violin concertos extant, and if I had to take either his six or Bacewicz’s six onto a desert island, I’d opt for Bacewicz’s without a moment’s hesitation — yet I’m nothing if not a Mozart enthusiast. They’re played here by Joanna Kurkowicz and the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra under their charismatic young conductor Lukasz Borowicz. Kurkowicz’s sweeping style, strong on emphasis and exceptionally self-confident, gives these concertos exactly what they need. Indeed, this pair of recordings is likely to catapult Bacewicz into a new and belated international celebrity. It isn’t often that you witness a new voice being launched onto the international market, but this appears to be what’s happening. Be that as it may, these two CDs are worth their weight in gold. The performances by Kurkowicz and by the orchestra are sensational, and the recording quality is at the very peak of its class. ”
— TAIPEI TIMES, Bradley Winterton

Composer We should know better
Kurkowicz’s playing can be poised and lyrical or firey and tempestuous as needed, the orchestral sound and execution are very good and Maestro Borowicz conducts with elan and authority. As with the previous volume, the works span the length of her career. The seventh shows the most modern leanings and chromatic intensity, the third a lyrical modernism contrasted with chromatic-diatonic fire–with a very dance-like final movement–and the first showing a more neo-classical style, though expanded harmonically and melodically, and always fully Bacewiczian in sound. The debt to Stravinsky is sometimes apparent; other times, there is a definite originality that makes her stand out. Taken together the two volumes of violin concertos are a revelation. Here is a composer we should NOT miss–and here are performances that give us many reasons why.

“Muzyka Bacewiczówny w ich interpretacjach (Kurkowicz, Borowicz) staje się powabna i intrygująca, przekornie, staroświecko atrakcyjna. Nagrania V Koncertu – Wiłkomirskiej i Kurkowicz – dzieli ponad pół wieku. Wszystko w tym czasie się zmieniło, z kanonami wykonawczymi włącznie. Nie zmieniała się tylko sama partytura. Ta wciąż kusi. I pokazuje, że klucz do jej zrozumienia może być czasami zupełnie inny.”
— GAZETA WYBORCZA, Jacek Hawryluk

Wholenote Discoveries – September 2011
“Chandos has issued Volume 2 of the Violin Concertos of the Polish violinist and composer Grazyna Bacewicz, and it’s quite stunning. Bacewicz (1909-69) was that 20th century rarity – a world-class violin virtuoso with compositional skills to match. Volume 1 featured Concertos 1, 3 and 7, and this new CD completes the set with Nos. 2 (1945), 4 (1951) and 5 (1954) (No.6 exists only in manuscript, and has never been performed). The three works here range from the somewhat Prokofiev-like No.2, with its mix of melodic and strongly rhythmic material, to the much tougher, terser world of No.5, as Polish music began moving away from the “formalist” Communist days. All three demonstrate Bacewicz’s innate understanding of the instrument, and her assured grasp of form and orchestration. The Polish-born violinist Joanna Kurkowicz, now resident in the United States, is wonderful throughout, and given terrific support by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Lukasz Borowicz. An absolutely essential addition to the 20th century violin concerto record catalogue.”
—GRIGORIAN.COM, Terry Robbins 

“Again violinist Joanna Kurkowicz is the driving force behind this album: she is an extremely skilled guide in this highly original and imaginative music. The Polish Radio Orchestra accompanies superbly led by Lukasz Borowicz and the Chandos recording could not be better: rich, deep and very natural. Joanna Kurkowicz deserves all honours for recording these concerts at such a high level!  This very well organized team soloist-orchestra-recording engineers makes one eager for more! ”
—OPUS KLASSIEK, Bas van Westerop

“…Premier recordings of substantial works played with brilliance and sensitivity by Joanna Kurkowicz with Polish Radio Symphony under Lukasz Borowicz. …It is a very good introduction to a composer that deserves more recognition in North America…”

“…Kurkowicz tackles the music with the rigor, energy and lyrical finesse, backed by Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Łukasz Borowicz.”

“…Zum Gelingen der CD trugen alle Beteiligten bei, angefangen bei der überragenden Solistin Joanna Kurkowicz, die sich unüberhörbar intensiv mit den Werken beschäftigt hat und die schwierigen und teilweise überraschend langen Solo-Passagen bravourös mit bemerkenswerter Leichtigkeit meistert. Kurkowicz ist jetzt schon die beste Anwältin für diese mitreißenden, überaus kunstvollen (und spannungsgeladenen) Konzerte, die man sich vorstellen kann: Technisch makellos, spielt sie die drei Konzerte mit nie nachlassender Spannung. Das Polnische Radiosinfonieorchester unter Łukasz Borowicz spielt ebenso präzise wie kraftvoll; ein Eindruck, der dank der überragenden Aufnahmetechnik exzellent vermittelt wird. Sogar das dreisprachige (Englisch, Deutsch, Französisch), reich bebilderte Booklet kann mit seinen Einführungstexten überzeugen. Die drei Konzerte selbst mit ihrer sehr individuell ausgeprägten Symbiose aus Neoklassizismus und Moderne sprechen schließlich für sich. Aus welchen Gründen auch immer Grażyna Bacewiczs Konzerte bisher weitgehend unbeachtet blieben, an mangelnder Qualität oder Originalität liegt es definitiv nicht. Ich bin mir sicher, dass diese neue CD am Ende des Jahres auf einigen Bestenlisten zu finden sein wird. Für mich ist es jetzt schon eine der besten Konzert-Veröffentlichungen des Jahres.

Inhalt, Ausführung, Klangqualität und Anmerkungen: Bei dieser Chandos-Produktion stimmt (mal wieder) einfach alles. Eine aufregende Bereicherung des Repertoires und eine sensationelle Solistin. Die besondere CD, erschienen im Juli 2011. ”
—CODAEX.DE, Sal Pichireddu

Performer’s note:

Grażyna Bacewicz, a distinguished Polish composer of the twentieth century and an accomplished violinist and pianist, bridges the gap between the neo-romanticism of Karol Szymanowski and the modernism of Witold Lutosławski. Despite her premature death, at the age of fifty-nine, she left an impressive œuvre of more than 200 compositions, including four symphonies, seven violin concertos, seven string quartets, and five sonatas for violin and piano, as well as concertos for piano and numerous works for both chamber orchestra and full orchestra.

The recording of Bacewicz’s Violin Concertos Nos 2, 4, and 5 is similar to that of Violin Concertos Nos 1, 3, and 7 (CHAN 10533) in that it comprises three stylistically diverse concertos. Written over the period of ten years between 1945 and 1955, they display the contrasting influences that formed Bacewicz’s compositional idiom. Following the example of the previous volume, this disc uncovers hidden gems of music – works that, once presented to a broader audience, could easily become favourites.

The centrepiece of the recording, Violin Concerto No. 4, was written in 1951 and dedicated to her violin teacher, Józef Jarzębski, a prominent Polish pedagogue. The concerto has quite a monumental character: it is a full-fledged symphonic work whose rich instrumentation includes a beautiful display of brass chords as well as sweeping lines within the strings in the concerto’s tutti sections. These tuttis demonstrate that, had she lived longer, Grażyna Bacewicz might have become one of the great symphonists of her time.

It is clear that, compositionally, Bacewicz wanted to write a big violin concerto with a definite leader (the solo violin) which is always positioned above the orchestra – a protagonist rather then an equal partner. Violin Concerto No. 4 has a very powerful emotional content. One may sometimes hear hints of Russian influences in the grandioso approach to the orchestral material, or even in the melodic contour of the solo line, as in the beautiful main theme of the first movement. When not sweet and lyrical, the music becomes very dark – particularly in the orchestral parts – or, sometimes, especially expressive – as in the short and unconventional cadenza in the second movement.

This concerto is technically brilliant and offers many opportunities for the soloist to shine, notably in the cadenzas of each of the three movements, and in fact in the entire third movement which is strikingly virtuosic. Polish folk material is used a few times in this dance-like Vivace. In the Andante tranquillo, as in her other slow movements, Grażyna Bacewicz creates a unique atmosphere that for me personally often brings to mind familiar feelings or images of the Polish landscape. But in as much as Violin Concerto No. 3 exudes an air of Polish folk culture, Violin Concerto No. 4 shows signs that it wants to escape from it. It is more European or cosmopolitan.

Violin Concerto No. 5 is even further removed from the Polish aura. I can sense almost immediately that Bacewicz had been exposed to the Parisian school of composition, and perhaps to the influence of Nadia Boulanger. Now she was open to new ideas and experiments. That new approach is quite striking in the Andante, which starts with mysterious pianissimo bitonal chords in the orchestral strings. The colour palette here is delicate and impressionistic, the use of dynamics very effective. The solo violin part wanders around – sometimes soloistic, sometimes as an airy counterpoint to a glamorous horn melody. It is one of Bacewicz’s most sophisticated slow movements. The folk motifs are this time scattered around in the first and third movements, but while previously Bacewicz had been proud to incorporate these motifs very openly, now she only hints at folk style as one of many threads in her outstanding instrumentation. The language of the whole concerto is more modern than that of any of the preceding concertos. The melodic line is contemporary, not linear but vertical in its approach. It seems as though Bacewicz is on her way towards the inventiveness of Violin Concerto No. 7. The breath of fresh ‘new’ air is felt throughout. I wonder about Violin Concerto No. 6, which survives in manuscript but which Bacewicz never performed and never published. How does it sound? It is a mystery I hope one day to solve.

Violin Concerto No. 2 was written in 1945. It is abundant in relentless energy. A visceral simplicity seems to be the important element here. The opening Allegro ma non troppo is definitely a tour de force for the violinist. Millions of fast notes, or so it seems, run at incredible speed. It almost feels as though Bacewicz is a composer here and now, expressing the cruel features of our times: speed, haste, and the chasing of something, no matter what. The perpetual motion seems never to end, and there is yet a long, fabulous cadenza, which at times reminds me of the first movement, ‘Obsession’, of Eugène Ysaÿe’s Solo Violin Sonata No. 2. Then comes repose, at least for a moment: the heavenly, gorgeous Andante. It longs for something – nostalgia – or is perhaps simply an afterthought, a thing of pure beauty. Yet another energetic third movement, with cascades of semiquavers, this time in 6 / 8 metre, breaks the silence. Bacewicz is surely obsessed with the motion of fast notes. ‘I run, not walk. I speak fast, even my pulse beats faster then normal, and I was born two months premature’, she used to say. It is evident here, the music exemplary of her style.

The project to record all the published violin concertos of Grażyna Bacewicz (Nos 1, 3, and 7 in Volume One and Nos 2, 4, and 5 in Volume Two) has been for me a tremendous journey through the incredible music of this fascinating composer. It has also been a journey that put me in touch with my Polish heritage. It proved deeply personal and satisfying on many levels. I hope that violinists around the world will take up these concertos and that listeners will enjoy them. They are like rare stones. You have to find them, but once found they prove to shine brilliantly.

I would like to thank Łukasz Borowicz, Bogna Kowalska and the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Warsaw, my sound engineers, Gabriela Blicharz and Lech Dudzik, and of course Ralph Couzens and Chandos Records. They made it happen.
Joanna Kurkowicz

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