Hyperion Records

Concerto for string orchestra
The Concerto for String Orchestra is Bacewicz’s most frequently performed orchestral piece, both at home and abroad, and deservedly stands alongside the serenades of Dvorák, Tchaikovsky and Elgar and the suites by Grieg and Warlock. It strikes a persuasive balance between expressive weight and deftness of touch as well as between distinctive thematic ideas and her ongoing fascination with the reconfiguration of standard structural procedures.

The opening Allegro of the Concerto has three principal themes, all of them interconnected motivically yet not obviously. The movement begins with a striding theme, of decidedly Baroque character, marked pesante. The second theme provides a concertante interlude for solo violin and cello against sul ponticello violas. The third theme intercuts an energico motif on the low strings with pizzicato violin chords (recalling a texture from the first movement of the Sinfonietta). Bacewicz develops this idea more significantly than might be expected at this stage of the structure. After a reintroduction of the concertante theme, a typically quixotic recapitulation ensues and swerves back to the home key only at the very end.

Although Bacewicz is often discussed in terms of her motoric rhythms, the heart of her music is really to be found in her slow movements. The Andante of the Concerto is arguably her most sublime. It opens with a shimmering violin texture in thirds, combining mutes, tremolando and sul ponticello. Its theme inverts the pattern of the first movement’s opening: where in the Allegro the first theme used D natural as the anchor for an intermittently rising line, here the parallel descending lines are suspended under a sounding major third (A flat–E). Such melodic techniques (sometimes she used a centrally pivoted model) were fundamental to Bacewicz’s compositional processes. Against this seductive ostinato, a chorus of cello and viola lyricism reaches several peaks of intensity before falling back to a brief quasi-reprise of the opening idea.

Even the exuberant finale has a second subject of wistful elegance (eloquent solos for viola and violin). This last movement is a spirited Vivo in 6/8, a format that was a perennial favourite for Bacewicz. It is typically vigorous, with a high-stepping theme and plentiful cross-rhythms and metrical short-circuits. The entire Concerto exudes a buoyancy and optimism that came from Bacewicz’s renewed confidence in her technique and musical language as she and Poland recovered from the traumas of the Second World War.

from notes by Adrian Thomas © 2009

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