Grażyna Bacewicz: Piano Music review – irresistibly joyful tunes dance on the keyboard | Classical music


Several outstanding recordings have opened up the world of Grażyna Bacewicz’s string music recently. Now Peter Jablonski adds to the momentum behind her piano music.

Bacewicz was not only a renowned violinist, she was no mean pianist either – and, as with the violin, her writing for the piano is exhilarating and absolutely fitted to the instrument. In Jablonski’s selection, these qualities come across most obviously in the Ten Concert Etudes, written in 1956-67. These, especially the earliest ones of the set, take an irresistible joy in the mechanics of the piano, in the action of hammers hitting strings – they’ll appeal to fans of Kurtág, and to those who love the similarly playful Etudes by Ligeti, written three decades later. Mismatched scales and arpeggios dance up and down the keyboard, and a motoric energy underpins even the more sweeping, lyrical numbers.

Peter Jablonski Plays Grazyna Bacewicz Piano Works Album artwork cover art
Photograph: Ondine

By the time she wrote these – and the contrasting Two Etudes on Double Notes, which Jablonski plays with a light touch and considerable charm – Bacewicz had survived a serious car accident that ended her performing career. But in 1953 she had been able to give the premiere of her own Piano Sonata No 2, a deceptively compact three-movement work that begins in expansive yet mercurial mood, ends with a big, restless toccata and centres on a slow movement built from a hypnotic, swaying figure – Jablonski makes this music sound magical when it returns at the end of the movement. Often, such as in that finale, the rhythms of Polish folk dance are in the background of Bacewicz’s writing; sometimes they are nearer the forefront, as in the brief, cheery Concert Krakowiak, based on snippets of folk melody.

Her Piano Sonata No 1, written in 1949, was published only last year, in an edition by Jablonski himself. Catching its play between high and low sonorities in the early movements and the tricksy rhythms of its finale, he is as persuasive a performer of it as he is of everything else here.

This week’s other pick

Regards de Femmes from the pianist Marie-Catherine Girod (Mirare) is a nicely put-together whistle-stop survey of 17 composers. Some might already be on your radar – such as Ethel Smyth, represented gratifyingly by her Variations on an Original Theme (of an Exceedingly Dismal Nature) – but there are discoveries to be made too, including a lovely miniature by Norway’s Agathe Backer Grøndahl, two Provence-inspired pieces by Jeanne Barbillion and a minuet by Mozart’s British contemporary Maria Hester Park.


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