Szymon Laks Chamber Works – Music of a Survivor

Volume 3 of the Chandos “Music in Exile” series features works by Szymon Laks. Laks was born in Warsaw, interred in a concentration camp during World War II. After the war, he couldn’t return to Soviet-occupied Poland, so he settled in Paris (in exile).

It was a logical choice. Laks was greatly influenced by French music. His 1927 Sonatina for piano has a Ravel-like quality to it. And yet it also has a bit of an edge to it as well.

Interestingly, the two war-years works here don’t have that edge. The Passacaille is an introspective and quiet work. Its long smooth melodies sound simple and poignant.

The 1967 Quintet for piano and strings is an arrangement of Laks’ 1945 third string quartet. The subtitle notes the work’s based on popular Polish themes. The tunes are lively, and for the most part, good-natured. In many ways, it reminded me of Smetana.

Laks’ post-war works — the String Quartet No. 4 (1962) and the Divertimento (1967) — sound modern and tonal. Some of the melodic shapes reminded me of Stravinsky, and the injection of jazz in the quartet seemed to borrow from Bernstein.

The ARC Ensemble turns in some fine performances. Although I’ve mentioned several composers as similes, Laks was not derivative. He was a strong personality and he imbued his music with it. The performances of the ensemble (in various combinations) bring that character to the fore. This release presents a fascinating and intimate portrait of Symon Laks through his chamber music.

Szymon Laks: Chamber Music
Music in Exile, Vol. 3
Divertimento for violin, clarinet, bassoon, and piano; Concertino for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon; Passacaille for clarinet and piano; String Quartet No. 4; Quintet for piano and strings on Popular Polish Themes; Sonatina for piano
ARC Ensemble
Chandos 10983

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