Founded in Warsaw, 1995, the Szymanowski Quartet plays music dear to its namesake, and the ensemble received the Polsh Szymanowski Award in 2005. They take a decidedly pungent approach to the second of Haydn’s so-called Tost Quartets of Op. 54 (1790), a reserved but plaintive melodic line, but whose deeper contours, as in the cello part in the second and fourth movements, resonate effectively. The concertante work between Marek Dumicz’s violin and Marcin Sieniawski’s cello walks the fine line of elegance and virtuosity with tender assurance. Tost’s own instrument, the second violin, has its own jobs to do via Grzegorz Kotow, the writing often knotty and inventive. The C Minor Adagio is one of those Haydn creations which take one aback in constant astonishment of its harmonic daring coupled with gypsy style. Another Adagio opens the wiry finale, interrupted by a transient Presto; then the Adagio reclaims its rightful position as the dominant affect that haunts us.
Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) was born into a Polish-Lithuanian family, and her musical abilities came to the attention of Karol Szymanowski, who encouraged her studies in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. A gifted violinist in her own right, a pupil of Carl Flesch, Bacewicz composed seven violin concertos. Her Fourth Quartet (1951) utilizes serial and lyrical impulses in a substantial piece of eminent seriousness. Rather severe in mood and tone, the first movement does yield to an occasional melodic phrase, much in the manner of Martinu. The Andante opens eerily enough, then moves, perhaps with some intimations of Debussy, to a folkish modality not too far from Bartok. A middle section fugato insures that classical procedures are given their due. The Polish oberek, a favorite fast dance of Wieniawski’s, provides the happy finale, the first violin having a good time while the cello thumps and sings away until four chords give us the victory sign.
The Szymanowski cut loose for the opening of Dvorak’s A-flat Major Quartet (1895), etching the first motif with nitric acid. The sonority of the group definitely expands, courtesy of engineers John Barnes and Everett Porter, and my speakers perked up their own ears. The playing, crisp and alert and poised for sensuality, reminds me of my favored Prague Quartet readings. Vladimir Mykytka’s viola has its day in court, while the stretti become staggering and symphonic. The nice leanings into marcato phrases creates an especial acerbity in the writing which, along with Dumicz’s violin, contrasts well with the tendresses Dvorak offers as conciliatory gestures. More acute, spirited lines from the syncopated Molto vivace, the pizzicati exploding off the walls. Sizzling! Lovely harmony and melos in the affecting Lento, the close miking causing us to breathe the phrases along with the Szymanowski Quartet. After the shimmering opening notes, the fiery dance of the Allegro non tanto has Sieniawski’s cello blazing fine-edged notes; and the immediate counterpoint and dizzying agogics keep us well surrounded by compositional and instrumental virtuosity. What a musically and acoustically satisfying disc is this–I had to stop being a critic and just listen! The first of my SACD recommendations for Best of the Year!
— Gary Lemco