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Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b.1933)
Symphony No.7 Seven Gates of Jerusalem (1996)
Olga Pasichnyk, Aga Mikołaj (soprano), Ewa Marciniec (alto), Wiesław Ochman (tenor), Romauld Tesarowicz (bass), Boris Carmeli (narrator).
Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir
Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. 18-20 November 2003, Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Poland
NAXOS 8.557766 [60:47]


Collectors who have been picking up the other symphonies in this ongoing Naxosseries will know a little about what to expect on this new recording. Krzyzstof Penderecki created a major stir in the contemporary music world as far back as 1962 when, having stirred international interest with such avant-garde works as Anaklasis (1960) and the Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1961), he came up with his Stabat Mater – a work whose emotional directness and faith-based simplicity lead critics to accuse the composer of turning his back on musical progress. Penderecki is however a devout catholic, and the neo-Romantic, pluralistic idiom which he developed in the 1970s and 1980s served both his symphonic and his religious output well.

The Symphony No.7 “Seven Gates of Jerusalem is, in the most simplistic terms, a choral symphony. Originally commissioned to celebrate the city of Jerusalem’s third millennium, the piece first appeared as an oratorio, being re-named as the seventh symphony on the work’s Polish premiere in March 1997, two months after the world premiere in Jerusalem. The number seven crops up at a number of levels in this work: seven movements, seven-note phrases in the building up of thematic content, and seven repetitions of notes at the same pitch.

The initial and pervading impression is of substantial orchestral forces, reinforced with extensive percussion and by exotic instruments such as the bass trumpet and the tubaphone. Lauda Jerusalem has some fascinating effects with tuned tubes like ‘Boomwhackers’ spread spatially to left and right. The dramatic choral and orchestral writing of this and other movements contrast strongly with the gentle but intensely intertwining polyphony of the third, a capella De Profundis movement. The orchestral writing has echoes of Shostakovich, and enthusiasts for his symphonies mixed with the drama of something like Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ will find a great deal to get their teeth stuck into here.

The recording is superb, and Antoni Wit’s direction leads to some hair-raising moments. The transition between Lauda Jerusalem and Facta es super me manius Domini, with some convincingly baleful Hebrew narration from Boris Carmeli is particularly moving. The Warsaw chorus and orchestra sing and play out of their skins, and this whole production is highly impressive – far too vast and spectacular for a budget price issue. As far as I can see this is the only CD recording available at the moment*, although there is an Arthaus DVD of a performance conducted by the composer. This piece is very much a statement for our times, being simultaneously accessible and uncompromisingly intense and forceful in both message and manner. There’s nothing to be afraid of by trying this new disc – just a disturbingly moving and dramatic apocalypse in your front room.

Dominy Clements    

*It has been drawn to our attention that there is a version available on Wergo and also on CDAccord.





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