Grazyna Bacewicz belongs to the same generation as Lutoslawski, but her early death just short of her sixtieth birthday meant her voice did not travel far beyond the Polish border given the cultural restrictions of those times. She was renowned as a violinist and performed widely in the Thirties. She studied composition under Nadia Boulanger in Paris and went on to build up an impressive oeuvre including four symphonies, seven violin concertos, a viola concerto, seven string quartets and numerous works for her own instrument. She is a notable member of the fellowship of composer-violinists such as George Enescu and Henryk Wieniawski, but sadly her music is not heard much outside Poland.
Her mature style while reflecting the influence of Stravinsky, Bartók and Prokofiev is entirely her own. Her First Quintet is both lyrical and dissonant, technically demanding and emotionally passionate. It opens mysteriously, the strings rising from the depths in a long slow arabesque over restrained chords from the piano, who eventually leads the music into the Allegro with a sudden burst of energy. The momentum slows for a second theme and a passionate development and recapitulation follows. The long, mysterious opening returns to bring the movement to an uncertain close.
The scherzo is irresistible, a whirling Polish triple-time dance, an oberek, which slows for a gentle trio before taking off again, the piano leading the mad dance. Everything stops for the slow movement, the emotional centre of the quintet, achingly beautiful music, that, in the words of one reviewer, elevates beauty and sadness to a spiritual apotheosis that is breathtaking. Nothing that went before prepares us for this devastating and heartbreaking music.
The finale picks up on the style of the first movement with short motives of great intensity and energy with lyrically singing interludes. Bacewicz is able to generate enormous excitement in a few bars before pausing as if to catch breath and then bursting out again. Right at the end the opening of the first movement is recalled once again maestoso.