"ACh Duo gives each Baroque dance perfect buoyancy and color range..."
Ach Duo: Noemi Hańczyk, harp, and Aleksander Pankowski vel Jankowski, guitar. QBK, 2021.
The “ACh” in ACh Duo stands for Arpa and Chitarra, Italian names for the instruments played by harpist Noemi Hańczyk and guitarist Aleksander Pankowski vel Jankowski. Pronounced “ah-CKH” with a slight guttural whisper, this ensemble is the only one of its kind in Poland. The two met back in 2012 as students, two talented virtuosi in their own right who’ve gone on as an ensemble to win recognition at international competitions, including first place at the Suoni d’Arpa competition in 2018. Their attractive debut album Alla Polacca is dedicated to music of their homeland.
Alla Polacca is a phrase often seen in the Baroque era for compositions reflecting the rhythm and energy of a polonaise, a slow and intricate dance in triple time. Opening the CD is an effervescent work reflecting this mood, Suite in modo polonico by Jewish pianist and composer Aleksander Tansman, a musician credited as an early representative of Neoclassicism who eventually settled in Paris. An incredibly prolific composer, Tansman was one of the first to heed the call by Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia to rectify the dearth of solo guitar music, and the Suite was always in the master’s repertoire. At Segovia’s request, Tansman later arranged it to be played with harp virtuoso Nicanor Zabaleta, though it was never performed, which I find a shame as it’s a stunning work as a duet, dignified and elegant.
ACh Duo gives each Baroque dance perfect buoyancy and color range, emphasized by the juxtaposed brightness and luminous harp and the caramel-toned guitar, beginning with a royal Entrée and stately Galliarde. Things are most interesting in the Kujawiak or slow Mazurka, with shifting tempi and adventurous harmonies. ACh plays as one, seemingly answering each other’s sentences in the dancing Polonaise and jaunty Alla Polacca, as if in a teasing conversation. The Kołyanska is rich and meditative, while the Rêverie highlights the duo’s ability to mesmerize. Ending with a flourish and panache, the ensemble shines in the Oberek, a fast-paced and impetuous mazurka with an Eastern flavor, where they’re never shy to lean into its exoticism.
Hańczyk’s rendering of Roman Ryterband’s Deux Images is heavenly in tonal contrast and poetic musicality. A diptych described in short, illustrative notes beginning with, “Upon a background of green meadows, studded with vine and olive trees…” the work requires imagination and an ability to tell a story, or at the very least paint a picture in tones. Hańczyk succeeds with spirit and flair.
Perhaps Chopin flows in the blood in Poland and that’s what gives the duo’s arrangement of Waltz in C-Sharp Minor just the right forward motion, without ever quite allowing things to spin out of their grasp. As if testimony to a long-ago affair, ACh conjures memories of times gone by in muted pastels, one of their best attributes as an ensemble.