• RSQ +1

Following its acclaimed CD of the Górecki quartets for Hyperion in 2011, the Royal String Quartet is riding high with its new Hyperion release of the quartets by Penderecki and Lutosławski.  Since its inception 15 years ago, when its members were students at the (then) Academy of Music in Warsaw, its concerts and recordings have received worldwide praise.  The RSQ has had a particularly fruitful career in the UK.  In 2004-06 it was chosen as one of the participants in BBC Radio 3’s renowned New Generation Artists scheme, and since 2012 it has been Quartet in Residence at The Queen’s University of Belfast, where I worked for the first 23 years of my own career.  I want to draw your attention, however, to the other music-making that the RSQ carries out in its native Poland which may not be so familiar to listeners elsewhere.

First and foremost are the RSQ’s ‘Kwartesencja’ festivals that it has mounted in Warsaw every year bar one since 2004.  These are designed not only to feature the RSQ but also to explore a huge range of collaborative possibilities with one or more other musicians.  Its two concerts from last year alone are excellent pointers to the versatility and imagination that the RSQ brings to its programming.

Kwartesencja 2012

I wish that I had been at the two concerts on 7 and 8 December 2012 (the programmes for this and previous Kwartesencja festivals are still online, but only in Polish).  Fortunately, the RSQ is media-savvy and excerpts from the 2012 events and follow-up recordings are now available on YouTube.

The first +1 was the actress Stanisława Celińska, well-known in Poland on stage and screen.  She performed ‘Songs about Warsaw’ with the RSQ, in arrangements by Bartek Wąsik (piano).  The concert on 7 December 2012 was a huge success and the project was encored on 4-5 January 2013.  It’s being repeated tomorrow night (19 March) in Wrocław.  Several of the songs have since appeared on YouTube and the collection has been issued on the CD Nowa Warszawa (New Warsaw).

These songs are but the most recent in a long Polish tradition of part-sung, part-declaimed lyrics with a mix of melancholic and nostalgic texts (my favourite in this regard is still the magical collaboration between Ewa Demarczyk and Zygmunt Konieczny in the 1960s).  Whether Nowa Warszawa has wider appeal outside Poland – Polish lyrics might be the sticking point – remains to be seen, but I hope it does.  Here’s the video of  ‘Warszawa’ from Kwartesencja 2012.  (It was originally recorded by the Polish ’80s band, T[eenage]. Love, whose own version is quite a contrast: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCfDEusHaDw.)


Here’s a track from the Nowa Warszawa CD: Stanisław Sojka/Soyka’s ‘Tango Warszawa’:

herdzinThe second +1, on 8 December 2012, was the young Polish jazz violinist, Adam Baldych.  In a move which might come across as sacrilegious, the RSQ and Baldych created a far-reaching improvisation on Lutosławski’s String Quartet.  Such an approach to their musical heritage is not entirely unknown among Polish musicians. Chopin has been the subject of attention from the Jagodziński Trio and Leszek Możdżer.  And the RSQ previously worked with the Polish jazz pianist Krzysztof Herdzin and his quartet, in Herdzin’s Fantasy on Themes from Grażyna Bacewicz’s Fourth String Quartet (CD issued in 2008, right).

See and hear for yourself what Baldych and the RSQ made of the Lutosławski quartet.  In this studio recording for Polish TV Kultura, there are some odd things going on in the background (the changing number of people sitting around the table in the shadows), plus two editing blips (at 12’31” and 16’02”), which make it hard to determine what the full performance was like.  Nevertheless, it makes an intriguing counterpart to the RSQ’s riveting performance of Lutosławski’s original quartet on its new Hyperion CD.


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