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Zbigniew BARGIELSKI (b.1937)
String Quartet no.1 Alpine (1976) [13:23]
String Quartet no.2 Spring (1980) [12:59]
String Quartet no.3 Still Life with a Scream (1985-86) [21:06]
String Quartet no.4 Burning Time (1994) [13:58]
String Quartet no.5 Time that has Passed (2001) [30:02]
String Quartet no.6 Dramatic (2006) [13:41]
Noc Pozegnan (A Night of Farewells), for accordion and string quartet (1983/1995) [13:18]
Po Drugiej Stronie Lustra (Through the Looking Glass), for clarinet and string quartet (1988) [12:28]
Marek Andrysek (accordion)
Roman Widaszek (clarinet)
Silesian Quartet (Kwartet Slaski)
rec. Concert Hall, Karol Szymanowski Music Academy, Katowice, Poland, 7-28 April 2008. DDD
CD ACCORD ACD 173-2 [61:02 + 70:34]


Zbigniew Bargielski is of the same generation as Górecki and Penderecki, yet where their names are widely recognised and their music much recorded, Bargielski languishes in relative obscurity. He is by no means a lesser composer, however, as this new recording of his string quartets demonstrates: this is outstandingly inventive music for the medium, modernist but approachable in a way that Penderecki has not always been. Pace the booklet notes, Bargielski's quartets are in some ways reminiscent of those of his slightly younger compatriot Krzysztof Meyer, himself the subject of the Wieniawski Quartet's traversal of his own works for this genre on Naxos (review of volume two).
 
Bargielski, with no little help from the redoubtable Silesian Quartet, coaxes some striking textures and beautiful harmonics from all four instruments. The Fifth is probably the best point of entry into Bargielski's quartets. The Second and Third are, by contrast, the 'unfriendliest' in terms of melodic and rhythmic familiarities, but even these, to borrow a phrase from the notes, "do not violently and ostentatiously oppose tradition". Each disc ends with something a bit different: a quartet-plus-one. A Night of Farewells features Marek Andrysek's accordion, whilst Through the Looking Glass gives a prominent role to Roman Widaszek's clarinet. These more or less continue in the same vein as the quartets, but the extra colour may also offer a leg-up into Bargielski's original sound-world.
 
Both Andrysek and Widaszek impress, but the real stars of the show are the hugely experienced and generally excellent Silesian Quartet, specialists in this kind of modernist repertoire. They deliver thoroughly, and typically, persuasive performances in very good sound recorded on their home territory.
 
By the way, the CD booklet does not claim these as Bargielski's complete string quartets, and indeed there is at least one more, Quatuor ą l'Heure Dite from 1991, according to the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, a state-funded organisation charged with promoting Polish cultural interests internationally, and one of the few sources of reliable information on Bargielski. Their listing has not been updated since 2008 however, so it is entirely possible that Bargielski may have written more since the Dramatic Sixth.
 
Like the music and performances heard here, the booklet is first-rate, with superbly detailed Polish-English notes by Andrzej Chlopecki enhanced by a few photographs and informative biographies, the latter albeit styled in esoteric-CV format. The translated English does have a slight foreign accent ("continuators") and is occasionally abusive of register ("bunch of titles") and punctuation, but neither are distractions of any consequence.
 
Byzantion
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