Bacewicz string quartet cycle off to good start

In their survey of string quartets by Grazyna Bacewicz, the Lutoslawski Quartet has done something interesting: they don’t present them in order. Volume 1 of the series features four of Bacewicz’s seven quartets. It opens with the 1960 String Quartet No. 6, one of her more avant garde quartets. Bacewicz uses a version of 12-tone music to organize her material, but develops it in her own fashion.

Following that is her first string quartet from 1939, a mostly tonal work with its central movement built around a Lithuanian folk song. The String Quartet No. 3, written seven years later, shows her development as a composer. Bacewicz was still writing in a mostly tonal style, but it was a much expanded tonality. Stylistically, this quartet reminds me of late Shostakovich.

The album ends with Bacewicz’ final string quartet, No. 7 completed in 1965. In sound, its aggressively modernist (compared to the other quartets). The motifs are somewhat disjointed, the harmonies more dissonant. And yet there’s a clear sense of structure and organization that runs throughout the work that keeps it from sounding dated.

The Lutoslawski Quartet’s recorded sound isn’t as clean as I would have liked it to be, but that’s a minor complaint. The important thing is that these four players understand Bacewicz. So their performance of the conservative String Quartet No. 1 is just as convincing as their performance of the challenging String Quartet No. 7.

I look forward to Volume 2.

Grazyna Bacewicz: String Quartets, Vol. 1
Lutoslawksi Quartet
Naxos 8.572806

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