An important lost 20th-century figure is resurrected

Silesian Quartet: Bacewicz, Mendelson

The Strad Issue: August 2023

Description: An important lost 20th-century figure is resurrected

Musicians: Silesian Quartet, Karolina Stalmachowska (oboe), Piotr Salajczyk (piano)

Works: Bacewicz: String Quartet (1929–30); String Quartet (c.1965). Mendelson: String Quartet no.1; Quintet

Catalogue number: CHANDOS CHAN20181

What if the Nazis hadn’t razed the Warsaw Ghetto, murdered the composer Joachim Mendelson who was only in his very early forties, and in the process destroyed most of his music? On the evidence of the works rescued by the publisher Max Eschig which are featured in this enterprising and warmly recorded release, we may well have lost a major 20th-century voice. Mendelson’s melodious invention, hovering around atonality, is structurally cohesive with more than an occasional hint of the influence of folk music. His extended stay in Paris perhaps also added a timbral exoticism to a style reminiscent of Ravel. The First Quartet, though relatively early, already reveals considerable mastery of the genre. The Silesian Quartet is a great advocate, ensuring the textures remain lucid and the contrasts alert. Equally impressive is its performance of the unusually scored Quintet for oboe, piano and strings, for which it is joined by Stalmachowska and Salajczyk.

Grażyna Bacewicz is an established voice of Polish culture and this disc explores her compositional evolution fascinatingly. Her early quartet reflects the influence of Szymanowski in its use of a kind of Romantic atonality. Already present is a contrapuntal weaving of voices, an element that was a hallmark of her style. The Fuga in the early work is an obvious example, but in the later quartet, the parts pursue each other in imitation in a kind of cartwheel motion, almost like a cat-and-mouse chase. Her writing in the later work is more harmonically astringent and with notably more employment of advanced string techniques. Again, the Silesian Quartet characterises the music with great insight.