In Concert – Silesian Quartet & Wojciech Świtała: Bacewicz, Weinberg & Zarębski

Wojciech Świtała (piano, below), Silesian Quartet [Szymon Krzeszowiec and Arkadiusz Kubica (violins), Łukasz Syrnicki (viola), Piotr Janosik (cello)]

Bacewicz String Quartet No. 4 (1951)
Weinberg String Quartet No. 3 in D minor, Op. 14 (1944)
Zarębski Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 34 (1885)

Wigmore Hall, London
Monday 17 October 2022

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

In existence now for 44 years and with only a change of leader during that time, the Silesian Quartet has amassed a broad repertoire taking in the extent of the Austro-German tradition along with that of its Polish heritage – as was evident from this latest Wigmore Hall recital.

The rapid upsurge of interest in women composers has been of real benefit to those such as Grażyna Bacewicz, whose sizable output of essentially abstract music went too long under the radar and not least a minor masterpiece as her Fourth Quartet – its first prize at the Liège Competition in 1951 vindicated. Its three movements are dominated by the first of these – a sombre Adagio introduction as variously infiltrates the lively ensuing Allegro, such that the coda essentially becomes a stretto between such contrasted expression. The central Andante finds this composer at her most lyrical, with the ‘giocoso’ marking of the final Allegro not necessarily implying any lessening of formal and emotional focus, as this builds toward an impetuous conclusion that clinches the unorthodox if methodical design of the whole work.

The Silesian gave a superb account of a piece it knows well – having recorded all Bacewicz’s quartets – as it did of Mieczysław Weinberg’s Third Quartet. On a similar scale, this also has a similarly overarching intensity – not least when attacca markings between movements were scrupulously observed as to give the overall design its unity within diversity. The unchecked energy of the initial Presto is by no means offset by the bittersweet poise of the Andante – its taciturn unease continued in an Allegretto affording only the most tenuous, even provisional closure. One reason, surely, why the composer restructured this piece when recasting it more than three decades later as his Second Chamber Symphony, which is hardly to deny the sheer fascination of the music at a crucial stage on the way to Weinberg’s mastery of this medium.

Had he died before writing his last work, Juliusz Zarębski would barely have been a footnote in musical history. His Piano Quintet confirms an acute feeling for Lisztian harmony, allied to a commanding formal sense as should have been the springboard into an eventful maturity and is not so far behind those by Brahms, Dvořák and Franck in being a major contribution to its medium. The Silesian had the measure of the first movement’s quirky take on sonata form – its vividly contrasted ideas merged in a tensile development then varied reprise and dynamic coda. The Adagio frames its lilting central section with a melody of rapt fervency, as is itself framed by music of ‘Forest murmurs’ aura, while the Scherzo likewise frames its wistful trio with music of an intently rhythmic propulsion. The final Presto is essentially a cyclical reprise of earlier ideas as this picks up where its predecessor left off, before pursuing a sonata-rondo trajectory such as culminates in a fervent recollection of the work’s opening theme. That this piece remains the summa of Zarębski’s creativity does not lessen the extent of its attainment.

The Silesian and Wojciech Świtała had prepared no encore, instead reprising the final pages of the Zarębski to close this programme in fine style. It is part-way through a recorded cycle of Weinberg’s quartets, another of which will hopefully feature in a future Wigmore recital.

For more information on the performers, click on the names to visit the websites of the Silesian Quartet and Wojciech Świtała – and for more on the composers, click on the names of Juliusz Zarębski, Mieczysław Weinberg and Grażyna Bacewicz

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