PENDERECKI 2nd cello concerto and UK premiere of 5th symphony at The Barbican 24 October 1999 Rostropovich & LSO, conducted by the composer.
Rostropovich gave the UK premiere of this 1982 concerto at Snape Maltings on a hot August day in 1986 (see picture). It is rather heavy, and not at all ingratiating, playing continuously in alternating slow and fast music, with overlapping developmental structures. It builds up with considerable energy from easily memorised motifs, which are thoroughly explored. Impressive and worth hearing, but not likely to enter the regular concerto repertoire.
The 5th symphony, also in a single movement of about 35 minutes, has had to wait most of a decade to reach these shores. Krzysztof Penderecki, now 66, explained that he works on several symphonies simultaneously and has his sights on achieving nine. Since the neo-romantic, Brucknerian 2nd he has re-introduced some of the orchestral sounds and techniques which made him famous in the 60s.
The 5th Symphony (1992) is, above all else, very loud indeed. A massive orchestra on stage is reinforced with extra trumpets up in the gallery. Penderecki builds a massive structure from fairly simple elements, and does nothing to woo the listener with beautiful sounds. It brings to mind some of Shostakovich's massive wartime symphonies, and relies on force and drama to win the day. A large audience came to hear again Penderecki in person, remembering or aware of how powerful a presence his music had been a few decades ago, when there was a flowering of Polish avant-garde. Now a portly, distinguished figure, he conducts left-handedly, with clarity and precision. The performance was all that could be expected, and this is not the sort of thing for your sitting room!
For home listening, hear Penderecki's own recording of the St Luke Passion completed in 1966, and a tremendous success at the Proms some years later - Soloists, choirs and Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, ARGO 430 328-2ZH.
Rostropovich has not recorded Penderecki's 2nd concerto, but it can be heard on ORFEO C285931A.
Peter Grahame Woolf
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