If Krystian Zimerman, relative recluse from the concert hall and recital room, let alone the recording studio, puts his name to something, in this case music by his fellow-Pole Grażyna Bacewicz, then it should be worth taking notice of.
Łódź-born Bacewicz (1909-69) may at one stage have been thought a ground-breaking composer, but as evinced by these three pieces, all of which require Zimerman’s services, she left us engaging music that is more Romantic than Modernist. It’s all very listenable stuff, which might at times be thought from a French pen if listening blind. Piano Quintet No.1 is from 1952, lyrical, volatile and folksy, always engaging, and with echoes of Shostakovich, mostly notably in the deeply felt slow movement. The finale (with a noticeable edit at 0’18”) has its scurry and beauty judiciously structures as a culmination to the whole. Its successor, from 1965, is more explorative (its effects woven into the musical argument) and proves the more rewarding piece, as combative as it is expressive, and written with passion.
Zimerman’s account of the Piano Sonata is driven by conviction. It is a big-boned creation with a heartfelt and shadowy slow movement; yet, for all Bacewicz’s vivid communication (the barnstorming finale though seems a little ‘empty’), the ultimate in composer identity is lacking in her music, that special something to hang your receptive hat on.
But the music here is certainly engaging and benefits immeasurably from this high-profile release with performers that seem to cherish every note and vibrate each one with conviction. The recording copes manfully with the thunder unleashed by Zimerman in the Sonata but the quintets are captured within a smidgen too much of reverberation, if with no lack of clarity and with well-judged balance between piano and strings. Recorded early-on in the year that marked fifty years since Bacewicz’s death, and allowing for any long-gestated post-production touching-up on Zimerman’s part, one wonders why it has taken two years to issue these recordings when an appearance during the half-century year itself would surely have been possible.