Tag Archives: Grazyna Bacewicz

SCO / Manze

City Halls, Glasgow

Throughout the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s near half-century existence, one of the greatest joys has been the orchestra’s intimate connection with Mozart. It was present once again in this final 2022 programme, which featured the classy South Korean pianist Yeol Eum Son in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 27 in B flat, and flashed up pleasurable memories of the complete Mozart concerto series performed with the same magnetic poise by pianist Mitsuko Uchida with the SCO way back in the 1980s.

Eum Son’s delivery had the same honesty and purity about it, lightning finger work precisely placed, an evenness of tone informing crystalline phrase, and a composure that allowed the music to express its intentions with natural elan. That conductor Andrew Manze – whose violin-playing days were once equally notable for their clean-cut Mozart – was of the same mind, brought a satisfying unity of purpose to the performance.

It was clear from the unending applause that Eum Son had no option but to deliver an encore, and boy did she oblige with the chattering brilliance of Moritz Moskowski’s Etincelles (Sparks) Op 36 No 6, like Scarlatti on steroids and offering a pyrotechnic glimpse of the pianist’s showier persona.

All this came immediately after the Concerto for String Orchestra by another amazing woman, Grazyna Bacewicz. As a pioneering female Polish composer in mid-20th-century male-dominated Europe, who had previously established herself as a celebrated violinist, it’s clear from this gutsy work (and others that have increasingly crept into concert programmes in recent years) that she was a voice to to be reckoned with.

Bullish, ultra-confident and instantly arresting, the opening movement was one unstoppable adrenalin rush, Manze drawing visceral heat from his eager, belligerent players. The wrestling complexity of the Allegro, a sizzling cauldron of thematic conflict, gave way to the more restful, rich-textured Andante, before the hi-octane finale, with its rhythmic twists and turns, produced a relentless, resolute dash to the finishing line. 

Manze completed his programme with music more often reserved for larger entities than the SCO, Dvorak’s Symphony No 7 – some may recall a BBC SSO performance a couple of weeks ago under Portuguese conductor Nuno Coelho. What transpired, though, was a refreshing reconsideration of its expressive potential. Where the string numbers were limited, the quality of sound was so alive and intense it captured details in the textural world of this heated symphony that are rarely heard.

As is standard with Manze, this was a programme brimming with refreshing thoughts, studiously intelligent on the one hand, passionately revealing on the other.

Ken Walton

Photo credit: Marco Borggreve

BBC SSO/Collon

City Halls, Glasgow

THE space and acoustic of Glasgow’s City Hall was another crucial player, alongside the members of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and conductor Nicholas Collon, in the performance that opened Thursday afternoon’s radio concert.

Grazyna Bacewicz’s Music for Strings, Trumpets, and Percussion is something of a classic of 20th century Polish music, dating from a time in 1958 when the Soviet hold on creativity there was loosening its grip. Bacewicz and her better-known contemporary Witold Lutoslawski were able to have some more progressive music performed, and Lutoslawski’s Funeral Music for strings is of the same year. It is explicitly dedicated to Bela Bartok and the similarity of Bacewicz’s title to Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste suggests the Hungarian composer was at least on her mind.

Perhaps she is less well-known in the West because, although prolific, she did not forge onwards as Lutoslawski did, but this 20 minute work deserves to he heard more often, and as sonorously as it could be appreciated here. Preceding Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, it was possible to hear some pastoral moments, but much more nature red in tooth and claw, and really this is abstract music, concerned with the tonalities of the instruments involved.

While there was some militaristic brass, the five trumpets also showed flashes of being a big band section, especially when muted towards the eerie ending of the second, central movement. It is chiefly the eloquent writing for the low strings that really distinguishes the score, however, and the SSO players provided real richness of tone.

Collon’s account of Beethoven’s Pastoral also boasted a lovely clarity of sound, immediately appreciable in the entry of the winds in the first movement, and in some surprisingly staccato propulsive cellos. Although there is a wealth of melody in the whole work, Beethoven stretches the material in the second movement a long way, and the conductor’s relaxed pace seemed to draw attention to that until the very pronounced birdcalls at its end.

The storm that follows was all the more dramatic as a result, but the whole arc of the piece seemed a little askew, as was something in the orchestral intonation at the start of the finale, in a performance that never sounded entirely sure of its shape.
Keith Bruce