TOMASZ CYZ | chief editor of Ruch Muzyczny | 10/2016
(… )The harpsichordist [Malgorzata Sarbak] of a magnificent imagination and skills, a phenomenal musicality; she can filter the ultralogical music of Szymanski through her extraterrestial emotionality. Perhaps that’s the reason why we move in time (is that baroque or contemporaneity?), we levitate and spin with this metallic sounds in the supersonic expanses. Dissociative Counterpoint Disorder is something between a compulsive play – a dialogue with the past broken now and then – and a silence. It’s also the expression of an enourmous sense of humor (both the composer and the performer) but with enourmous seriousness at once, which the music for the surconvensionalist P Sz was, is and always will be. All that is played by Sarbak with an absolute perfection. Ruthlessly. In her rendition, Through the looking glass…III seems to sweep all other inerpreations, other pieces off our collective memory. (…)
This year’s most interesting Polish music CD
DARIUSZ WASILEWSKI | Audio Lifestyle, the audiophile magazine | 10/2016
Three years ago we were thrilled to pieces with the Bach Partitas recorded for an independent label Lado ABC by the extraordinarly talented harpsichordist Malgorzata Sarbak, and now we have a reason to delight ourselves with the production much more ambitious, and remarkably succesfull – a monographic disc presenting the harpsichord output of the Polish contemporary composer, Paweł Szymański. (…) The renditions of Malgorzata Sarbak, for whom Szymanski wrote the title piece Dissociative Couterpoint Disorder, ideally transmit the composer’s vision – her playing is light, full of grace, very confident and in this timeless style, that Szymanski is looking for in his harpsichord pieces.
Szymanski in his convention
EWA CICHOŃ | Ruch Muzyczny | 01/2015
The premiere of every Paweł Szymański work is a significant event. The foyer chamber at Teatr Studio was packed, which is rather rare at similar concerts of contemporary music. It may have been not only the new piece that drew the audience, but also the rising harpsichord star, Małgorzata Sarbak, genially rendering the music of J.S. Bach and harpsichord works by Szymański.
Mozart krumm und wild
HEINZ LINDUSCHKA | „Main-Echo” | 07/2014
(…) der Sulzbacher Tangentenflügel des Regensburgers Christoph Friedrich Schmahl von 1790 der polnischen Cembalistin und Fortepianistin Malgorzata Sarbak die Möglichkeit bot, ihr ausdruckstarkes Spiel perfekt zur Geltung zu bringen. Solistisch brillierte sie vor allem in der facettenreichen Mozartsonate nach der Pause, als sie mit dem warmen, intensiven Klang des Flügels alle Klangfarben und Tempi der Sätze spielerisch leicht ausgestaltete.
»Sie werden vielleicht glauben oder meynen ich sei gestorben! – ich sey crepirt? – oder verreckt?« Mit diesen Worten beginnt der 21-jährige Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart im Februar 1778 einen Brief an sein »Bäsle«, die drei Jahre jüngere Cousine Maria Anna Thekla Mozart in Augsburg.
Einen ganz anderen Mozart konnte man kennenlernen, als im Claviersalon am Freitagabend eine »feine Nachtmusik von und mit Wolfgang Amadé Mozart« geboten wurde.
Die Pausengespräche der gut 70 Musikfreunde, die noch eine Karte ergattert hatten, spiegelten die Verblüffung über den jugendlich-wilden, manchmal auch derben Ton mit »Ausflügen« in die Fäkalsprache wider. »Gut, dass Mozart nicht Dichter, sondern Musiker war«, lautete der Tenor der Unterhaltungen im Innenhof des Claversalons. Dem Reiz dieser Sprache, vor allem aber der sensibel ausgewählten Musik, konnte und wollte sich jedoch niemand entziehen.
Programm für Musikfeinschmecker
Sylvia Ackermann hatte ein Programm der Extraklasse für Musikfeinschmecker zusammengestellt: Stephanie Meisenzahl, freie Schauspielerin und Sprecherin, war mit ihrer jugendlichen Frische genau die Richtige, um erst im zeitgemäßen Sommerrüschenkleid und nach der Pause eher sportlich-modern Mozarts Brief ans Bäsle lebendig und mit einem kleinen Augenzwinkern zu lesen.
Dass unter den Zuhörern Mozarts Vorliebe für das »Scheißen« einige Verblüffung hervorrief, als der selbst ernannte »alte, junge Sauschwanz« in einem Brief 1779 bekannte, »schon 22 Jahre durch das alte Loch« zu »scheißen«, dass er »wild, krumm und lustig« schreibt, wenn er gut gelaunt ist, ließ vor allem einige der älteren Musikfreunde die Augenbrauen hochziehen. In der Pause fragten diese bei Sylvia Ackermann sicherheitshalber nach, ob das tatsächlich alles Texte von Mozart seien.
Alles original Mozart
Natürlich war das alles original Mozart, ebenso wie die Musik, die an diesem Abend zu hören war. Und die war schließlich am wichtigsten. Sie erklang so authentisch, wie man das nur im Claviersalon erleben und genießen kann – auf zwei Flügeln aus Mozarts Zeit, die ohne die moderne Dämpfung mit dem Klang von Holz auf den Saiten die Zuhörer tatsächlich 230 Jahre zurückbeamte.
Georg Ott hatte dafür gesorgt, dass der Sulzbacher Tangentenflügel des Regensburgers Christoph Friedrich Schmahl von 1790 der polnischen Cembalistin und Fortepianistin Malgorzata Sarbak die Möglichkeit bot, ihr ausdruckstarkes Spiel perfekt zur Geltung zu bringen. Solistisch brillierte sie vor allem in der facettenreichen Mozartsonate nach der Pause, als sie mit dem warmen, intensiven Klang des Flügels alle Klangfarben und Tempi der Sätze spielerisch leicht ausgestaltete.
Genau so spannend: Malgorzata Sarbaks Zusammenspiel mit Sylvia Ackermann, die am Schiedmayer-Hammerflügel von 1783 aus Erlangen saß und dort zum Einstieg Mozart-Fantasien mit enormer Präzision in ihrer unvergleichlichen Art zur Symbiose brachte.
Es folgten höchst spannende Musikdialoge zwischen den beiden Flügeln und den Pianistinnen, bevor Sylvia Ackermann den Platz wechselte und mit Malgorzata Sarbak aus Warschau am Tangentenflügel ein Mozart-Stück perfekt und höchst inspiriert vierhändig interpretierte.
Kontraste und Parallelen
Zwischen Texten und Musik wurde immer wieder ein Kontrast in den Claviersalon gezaubert. Doch gab es auch Parallelen. Beispielsweise dann, wenn in Mozarts Fantasien, Sonaten, Variationen, Präludien und Menuetten alle Facetten der Klaviermusik ausgelotet werden und in seinen Briefen das breite Spektrum zwischen jugendlichem Übermut und zeittypischer Floskelsprache zu hören ist. Dass dabei Heroen der Musik von einem Sockel geholt werden, auf dem sie sich vermutlich nie wohl gefühlt hätten, ist der schönste Nebeneffekt, den man sich denken kann. Das letzte Wort hatte im Claviersalon die frische Stimme von Stephanie Meisenzahl, als sie das Ende eines der letzten Bäslebriefe vom 10. Mai 1780 zitierte: »Mein Vatter giebt ihnen seinen Oncklischen Seegen. und meine schwester giebt ihnen tausend Cousinische küsse. und der Vetter giebt ihnen das was er ihnen nicht geben darf. Adieu – Adieu – Engel.«
Intimate communion with Bach’s work
PIRath | “Pizzicato” | Nr 238; 12/2013
Grade: ♪♪♪♪♪ | One is very agreeably surprised from the opening notes of the prelude from the first Partita; mildness and depth of sound reveal the excellence of both the musician and her instrument. Right away, a calm sentiment and serenity settles in, which affords the guarantee of a musician very sure, not looking for the effect of shining from the stage but transmitting with mastery all the secret essence of this grandiose oeuvre by Bach. This intimate communion with Bach’s work never falters across the three CDs that contain the six Partitas.
The Six Partitas on three CDs is a debut one can only dream of
Ewa Obniska | Płytomania, Polish Radio Program II
[…] her playing is tremendously emotional and this is the great asset of this release […] extremely fresh, adroit, dramatic […], excellent technical disposition, superb skills of harpsichord playing and technique in all aspects […] dances are played dashingly, with temperament and with that kind of vital force that is thrilling […].
Interview with Małgorzata Sarbak
TOBIAS FISCHER | tokafi.com | 10/2013
When it comes to Bach, Małgorzata Sarbak doesn’t believe in coincidences. In the booklet to her recently released 3CD-boxset of the composer’s partitas, harking back to a famous quote by German poet and Bach-contemporary Christian Schubart, she refers to Bach as an ‘original genius’, describing his music as an exquisite riddle for the brain – in which everything has been expertly planned, organised and designed and to which our body “may give us clues by surrendering to rhythms”. Certainly, her own rendition of the partitas re-kindles this riddle, managing to sound fresh and respectful, energetic and detailed, contemplative and physical all at once. The album is the result of many years of performing the piece in public, of myriads of post-concert conversations with listeners and of finally realising that she might have, inside of her, a personal vision of a collection of pieces about which everything already seemed to have been said. It was integral to this vision to not only treat each individual partita as a story onto itself, but to bring out the intricate relationship between the different chapters, to unearth the hidden path that turns the music into a mesmerising trip rather than just a collection of technically challenging pieces. Little wonder, then, that the packaging of the release mirrors this holistic approach, coming in a smart, interleaved digipack featuring perfectly contemporary photography and insightful liner notes. Other artists might have delegated these aspects to the label and ended up with yet another exchangeable, forgettable release. But when it comes to recording the music that is closest to her heart, Małgorzata Sarbak won’t let anything up to chance.
Actually I can’t remember the time without him. Even as a kid who could barely read the music, he was already present. From year to year the difficulty-level grew and his pieces would always be the ones to be scared of most. If I had nightmares before the piano exam it would be about the struggle with the unprepared fugue. Never about Beethoven’s Sonata, Rachmaninov’s Prelude or Chopin’s Nocturne.
So I was always aware that Bach compositions needed a special attitude, patience, knowledge and high technical skills. And it was during the harpsichord studies when I just started being delighted with all those puzzles waiting to be solved. I feel that there is still so much to discover that it would be enough work for one life. Sometimes, when I am in a trap of some issue I imagine Bach having this brain beyond our grasp, being the one making fun of us, as we would devote our lives to come into his head trying to find the truth. But there is no truth and we are not able to replay or reconstruct the music in a shape it was when composed in the XVII or XVIII century. We play it today in accordance with our constantly changing feel of aesthetics. We can’t experience the pain or shock the Bach’s first listeners experienced. And that’s kind of a shame.
So what’s his relevance today, do you feel?
I feel that he becomes younger and fresher. Stealing Bach’ music from philharmonics and allowing it to materialize in the uncommon and non-orthodox spaces makes him more accessible, more human, especially for that part of the audience which is curious and open-minded but absolutely frightened to trespass the threshold of the classical music temple without the proper state of know-how.
The first set of partitas have often been overshadowed in Bach’s oeuvre by some of his other works. What do they mean to you and how would you rank them compared to, say, Die Kunst der Fuge?
I am not really sure if I would agree that they are underestimated or overshadowed. All of Bach’s huge volumes are a big challenge for a musician and a fantastic ground for his artistic statement. Beside the common features, which can be found in any Bach music – like polyphonic thinking, meticulously planned architecture, original treatment of musical narration, virtuoso complexity and multi–layer structure hiding myriads of riddles – each of the volumes offers something extra, something that becomes the superior feature. In the case of the Partitas this would be the variety of musical material in dance forms, of course, and a colourful palette of opening movements. In case of Die Kunst der Fuge – the polyphonic technique in all (im)possible manners, but based on one theme. Both collections are very demanding, but with the Partitas, the performer has to be aware of and familiar with many different styles, musical languages of that time in Europe, and be able to speak these languages even in the technically most complex compositions.
What was your own vision for the partitas?
My goal was to clearly show the different colours and narrations of each Partita and yet make the whole cycle sound as a coherent volume. The stories inside a fat book. This music is definitely filled with contrasts and I am the follower of such contrasting renditions. Such an approach is anyway according to the theory of affects of that time. What I love about Bach is his divine mind. The mixture of a scientist and a humanist, both good-natured and a tease. And this complex personality I wanted very much to show in my interpretations. Endless riddles to be solved, endless questions to be asked. This is fascinating for me. I know there will always be something more to discover.
How do you decode the intentions of this divine mind?
While working on a piece by Bach I always try to solve the puzzle, to guess what he had in mind by choosing the particular way of writing the musical line or rhythmic figure. With the repertoire of XVII/XVIII centuries the problem is that there is nothing explicitely in a score from the composer – the musician must learn to speak this language. Lots of instructions we can find in the treaties from that time but even there author would underline the fact that the final interpretative decision has to be based on the good taste of the performer. Regardless of whether we know what constitutes good taste or not, we are definitely sure that there is lots of space left for the performer to become the co-creator of the piece. His personality, temperament and type of mind must be heard in any music he performs. That is why classical music is not dead yet!
Tell me about your personal challenges of performing the Partitas.
As partitas are the final Bach’s statement in the field of the suite form, they reach the absolute peak in the genre. For example, the gigue itself is a very demanding dance form, and when written as a complex fugue, you have more than one theme, or first theme, becoming the counterpoint to the new theme, or finally all these will eventually meet at some point. You have to give these aspects serious thought. You need to find a right balance between the masterfully designed polyphonic form and characteristics of that dance. For me, it was very important to define the unique character for each partita and to keep this distinction for all the movements. This was a huge challenge, because every dance has its particular features, and yet I wanted to speak differently with the corrente from the 6th in minor key than the corrente from the 5th in major one. Of course, it’s not only the key, which differentiates them from each other. The harmonic tensions, the compositional techniques, the metri, the national styles, even the placing in the volume; all these give each partita a special colour.
What’s your position on the debate of performing this music on the harpsichord versus the piano?
While playing on the instrument he chose for the particular music, we know how Bach had heard it while composing it. The structures he used were dedicated to this particular instrument, as the ones, which would work best on it. The instrument and its limits on many levels – expressive, technical, sound – are helping us to solve doubts concerning interpretation. While playing on the piano we gain a different version of the piece. Speaking in the terms of popular music, it’s like a cover version of the piece performed by a different band. In my opinion, the crucial thing is to understand what the piece is about. In order to know it, someone who decides to play it on the piano has to understand the harpsichord idiom first. Then, he can try to find the proper means of the piano to end up with the same content achieved with different “tricks”. Imitating the harpsichord idiom on the piano doesn’t work at all and may only lead to a ridiculous caricature. To sum things up: you have to use completely different methods in order to gain the same musical narration. And when it’s done, I don’t have anything against it per se. I just don’t like the ignorant approach to this music, treating it as if it were some kind of abstraction, which could be rendered in the same way as the romantic one for example, without the knowledge of the period, style and aesthetics. So, while playing the piano, you can’t ignore the dynamics as a tool to show the voices in the fugue a little more, assuming that on harpsichord that wouldn’t be possible. Because it IS possible on the harpsichord, only in a different way and by using different instruments like time, articulation, ornamentation and registration. At the end, you can easily hear the masterfully designed voice leading on harpsichord too.
You already spoke about lowering the threshold to the temple of classical music. Your album looks like a perfectly contemporary release and you’ve performed in decidedly untraditional venues. How do you feel about some of the more free approaches to classical music, which seek to liberate the music from its ‘monumental’ status?
I consciously chose an independent label with an attitude and philosophy close to mine. What is unique about releasing a CD on a DYI label is that you can choose the artists with whose work you will achieve the desired effect. The final shape of the album couldn’t be achieved without the remarkable work of these people. I can’t really say a lot about the nature of cooperating with a big label, but what I’m sure of is that I wouldn’t have been allowed to decide not only about every single detail in my album but often not even about the musical aspects. And that I could never agree on. I believe all the impulses you receive when you take the record in your hands illustrate the taste of the artist and have an influence on your reception. I am usually very enthusiastic about new approaches, which doesn’t mean I agree with all of them. When the most important factor of the piece is lost by such a procedure, I can become sad. But definitely I am a fan of refreshing this music, making it live and current. And that is why you could hear me playing these Partitas in a dark cellar of a popular Warsaw club. Not deconstructed, not reinterpreted in some modern fashion. Just the same as I would play them in philharmonics. Only this time it is me who is coming to the new audience.
Bach and the harpsichordist’s virtuosity
WITOLD PAPROCKI | Ruch Muzyczny | 10/2013
The diversity of the Bach Galanterien – those forty miniature gems – can be discerned due to the suggestive and distinct interpretation of the harpsichordist. Małgorzata Sarbak’s view over the first volume of Clavier-Ubung is as virtuosic as it is refined, searching with great discernment for the essence of the composer’s intention. The Partitas, from her perspective, offer a tremendous dose of amusement, but that invaluable one touching not only the senses but also the mind and soul.