Union Square
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Expressive works for a variety of instrumentation by Jakub Polaczyk. Winner of Gold Diploma in the International Category from the 3rd International Muzyczne Orly Competition.

Born in Poland, composer Jakub Polaczyk graduated from the Penderecki Music Academy, Jagiellonian University, and Carnegie Mellon. He lives in New York City and is on the faculty at the New York Conservatory of Music. His music has won numerous awards, including the American Prize in Composition, and the Iron Composer First Prize. His music has been performed around the world in concert hall and music festivals. This recording features his chamber music, most of which was composed in New York City. Union Square, the title of the recording as well as one of the compositions, is a special place to Polaczyk. He goes there for inspiration, to play chess, and enjoy the intermingling of many cultures. He often describes his compositional approach as playing a game of chess.
Jakub Polaczyk, composer
Combinations on Olympus
Pawel Cieslak (trombone)

Jakub Polaczyk, composer
Ginko-Ya "Pendula"
Argus String Quartet

Jakub Polaczyk, composer
Renata Guzik (flute); Pawel Kubica (piano); Maciej Zimka (accordion)

Jakub Polaczyk, composer
Three Earth Poems
Kofi Hayford (double bass); Jakub Polaczyk (piano)

Jakub Polaczyk, composer
Jakub Polaczyk (piano)

Jakub Polaczyk, composer
Halny Fantasy
Wotjek Komsta (clarinet)

Jakub Polaczyk, composer
Wioletta Straczek (flute); Jakub Polaczyk (piano)

Jakub Polaczyk, composer
Union Square at Dusk
Blow Up Percussion Rome

Jakub Polaczyk, composer
afraH and telF Duo

The Polish composer and pianist Jakub Polaczyk now calls New York City home, and his work has gained him plenty of awards and has been performed around the world. Here, he finds plenty of chamber sounds to be absorbed, where each track welcomes different players. “Combinations On Olympus” begins the listen with Pawel Cieslak’s animated trombone that finds both calm and adventurous tones, and “Ginko-Ya "Pendula" follows with the Argus String Quartet making for an intimate, cinematic climate of mystery and warmth. Further on, “Three Earth Poems” recruits Kofi Hayford’s bass and Polaczyk’s keys for the expressive musicianship and firm baritone pipes, while “Mazurka-Fantasy” showcases Polaczyk’s very meticulous and dreamy piano playing that pays close attention to mood. The last two tracks are among the best, where “Union Square At Dusk” emits cultured and unique percussion from the Blow Up Percussion Rome, and “Yoolcoo-Yoolcu-Yoolcou” exits with flute and harp from the aFraH and telF Duo for a highly articulate and pensive finish. Polaczyk compares his music to playing chess, and his vision is certainly well planned out, strategic and thought provoking, where each track brings new surprises. (www.takeeffect.com)

Born in Krakow, Poland, in 1983, Jakub Polaczyk is currently a resident of New York City. Most of the works here were composed in New York, and the title of the disc, Union Square, refers to a place frequented by the composer, primarily to play chess (indeed, the disc cover photo shows him doing exactly that). The solo trombone piece Combinations on Olympus (2007) is the result both of the composer’s studies in Poland and his fascination with ancient culture (focusing on Greek mythology). The piece won a prize in the Polish Musical Publisher House Composition Competition, and it is easy to hear why. Far more than a technical exercise, the piece holds lyricism at its heart. Pawel Cieślak is an exceptional player, able to differentiate line and decoration perfectly through differing timbral qualities, while Polaczyk creates a fascinating solo trombone panorama. A vital part of Combinations on Olympus’ vistas was lyricism, and one can hear this aspect of Polaczyk’s core expression in the string quartet piece Ginkyo-Ya, “Pendula” (2021). This is intended as a musical “postcard” that acts as an in memoriam to Krzysztof Penderecki. The word “Gingko” means “memory”; the atmosphere here, while intensely lyrical, is also laden with grief. Inspired by Penderecki’s love for trees (again, the gingko aspect) and the shape of the gingko’s leaf, the piece exudes delicacy and, perhaps more accurately, fragility left in the wake of one who is now absent. The performance, by the Argus Quartet, is spectacular. This is a group of young musicians clearly immersed in the music of our time (they have worked closely with the Brentano Quartet at Yale, and from 2017–19 they were the Graduate Resident String Quartet at the Juilliard School, working with the Juilliard String Quartet). The recording (made at Lounge Studios, New York) is superb, capturing every nuance at the lowest dynamic level, whilst the Argus Quartet’s sheer control enables the piece to speak at its most emotionally powerful level. Scored for flute, accordion and piano, Ojibbeway (2019) offers a beautiful kaleidoscope of sound inspired by Native American culture. It is also one in a series of pieces inspired by the paintings of Pennsylvania artists George Catlin on Native American subjects (paintings which are stunning in and of themselves, incidentally, in the way they capture character and atmosphere so supremely well). Polaczyk’s response is intense. Silences speak volumes; at other times, the music has a sense of play that could be overseen by Olivier Messiaen. The piece is absolutely riveting, and the three players here, Renata Guzik, Pawel Kubica, and Maciej Zimka, make for an ideal chamber combination. It certainly sounds as if they play together regularly, given the level of detail revealed in this performance. The fine bass Kofi Hayford is the singer in the Three Earth Poems (2020). Composed during the pandemic in celebration of Earth Day, the first reflects on Emily Dickinson’s poem High from the earth in a highly melismatic setting. The recording feels over-reverberant in the first song, though. The second, “Earth My Pillow,” features extended piano techniques (strumming the strings and tapping), which are well reproduced (the text is from Yang Wan-Li’s Heaven My Blanket, Earth My Pillow). The final “Touch a Little Polish Soil” is a reflection of Cyprian Kamil Norwid’s “In an Album,” a poem, and now a song, of pining for an “other” place. The superb pianist is none other than the composer himself. The solo piano exploration of the soul of a mazurka, Mazurka-Fantasy (2018), includes some references to both Chopin and Szymanowski; it is hauntingly played by the composer here. This piece is the one I would suggest to start with as an “in” to the essence of Polaczyk’s music. The Halny Fantasy for solo clarinet is “inspired by the wind from the composer’s home town.” Clarinetist Wojtek Komsta is a superb exponent of his instrument; his mid-lower register is a particular aural delight, perfectly full and verging on the rich. Komsta also shades the phrases so very well. The dark, low register of the piano attests to Arlequin (2011) not being all fun and play. Dedicated to the Ukrainian ensemble Nostri Temporis, this comic-grotesque piece is announced as a “modern reminiscence on the Italian commedia dell’arte.” In asking for the very highest register at one point, Polaczyk seems to be injecting just a touch of humor, but the prevailing impression is of a melancholy Rückblick to a time past (and lost). Flutist and piccoloist Wioletta Strączek is in sparkling form, with the composer again a superb partner. The 2017 piece Union Square at Dusk is more overtly rhythmic than anything heard on this disc heretofore. Scored for percussion group, it receives a vital and energizing performance here by Blow Up Percussion Rome, who use such instruments as kalimbas, whistles, finger cymbals, and shakers. Inspired both the game of chess and by the sounds in the environs of Union Square, it is a remarkable soundscape. There is a moment when the music becomes suddenly reminiscent of Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin before whistles anchor us back chez Polaczyk. The whole is fascinating. Finally, Yoolcoo-Yoolcu-Yoolcou for flute and harp (2022) offers a rather surreal take on the idea of night music, and is also a lullaby dedicated to the composer’s son. The performers are the members of the Krakow-based afraH and telF Duo, comprising Katarzyna Zabielska (harp) and Małgorzata Mikulska (flute). The lullaby is decidedly strange, a sort of Picasso-like take on serenity. Clearly, we are dealing with a talented composer with a vast imagination here. For his first “auto-biographical” album (as the disc is referred to in the booklet notes), he could hardly have asked for more. This is not his first Fanfare Archive entry, though: His Oratio Fatima turned up previously in a disc I reviewed in Fanfare entitled New Choral Voices, Volume Four on the Ablaze label (in 44:4). A piece written in reaction to the death of Pope John Paul II, it left something of a mark, but it is good to have previous impressions filled out by the current disc. Recommended. (Fanfare)