Aside from one or two pieces, this disc plays like a ‘best
of most gorgeous
bits from’ album of Penderecki’s music, something which I, as a more
enthusiastic student of the more avant-garde 1960s and 1970s Polish music scene,
am just going to have to grow up and deal with.
Recorded in a sumptuous acoustic, the strings of the Sinfonia Varsovia sound
as good here as I have ever heard them, and it is this rich carpet of sonority
which underlies Albrecht Mayer’s superlative English horn playing in the
. This, like the Agnus Dei
and De Profundis
a transcription, but each of these pieces do work on their own, even when removed
from the context of much larger scale works. The melancholy beauty of the Adagietto
continued in the Chaconne in memoria del Giovanni Paolo II.
Each of these
pieces has a strong underlying romanticism, but also enough dramatic toughness
to avoid spilling into absolute sentimentality. The descending bass line of the Chaconne
if given a Milonga rhythm, almost be something Astor Piazzolla might have penned.
, perhaps better known as the Polish Requiem
pretty much an assembly of related movements from an extended creative period
anyway, so having the Agnus Dei
as a single piece seems more than legitimate.
Like all good choral music, the arrangement works well with strings, the close
harmonies and quasi-resolving progressions transcending a need for text.
After this sequence of minor-key memorial type pieces, the earlier Intermezzo
an entirely different world from the start. With its quarter-tone intervals,
use of differing string colours and textures, this is fairly typical of the Polish
avant-garde I mentioned earlier. In 1973, Penderecki was already moving towards
an introduction of recognisable harmonic centres in his first symphony of that
same year, and so the Intermezzo
might be seen as ‘late’ avant-garde.
In comparison with some of Penderecki’s work of the 1960s, this is quite
a gentle excursion beyond the surrounding tear-jerkers.
comes from Penderecki’s seventh symphony, the “Seven
Gates of Jerusalem”
of Naxos recording).
this makes for satisfying string orchestra music, though the intonations rising
the basses from 4:25 and other sections further on are more typically vocal than
anything originally for strings. The Serenade
most certainly is for string
orchestra, opening with a fairly brief but brooding Passacaglia
, and followed
by a Larghetto
which retreats back into more romantic but still dark moods
of expression. Penderecki made his own telling remark in response to any criticism
one might have about whichever means of expression he uses: “I do not mind
how [it] is described, whether as traditional or avant-garde music. For me it
is simply authentic. This is enough.” That has to be one of the best put-downs
for critics who are determined to put works of music into easily definable boxes.
The final two works are as widely contrasting as you could wish. The 3 Pieces
in Baroque Style
do what they say on the tin, though it would have been interesting
if Penderecki the conductor had had a go at playing them in Baroque Style rather
than just giving us More of Same with regard to the plush string tones of the
orchestra. These pleasant if rather forgettable sweeties are followed by the
gritty Sinfonietta per archi
, which opens like the shower scene from ‘Psycho’.
This shows the untamed Penderecki, still capable of baring his teeth in a forceful
manner. Of the two movements, the first Allegro molto
is quite open in
texture, filled with solos and widely spaced counterpoint. The second is marked Vivace
has more of an urgent, intense character.
This disc can take its place proudly as part of the Dux label’s Penderecki
Special Edition. Superbly recorded and produced with interesting if not very
work-specific notes, this is one of those discs which you want to have around
for numerous reasons: if not for dancing, then at least for being able to wallow
in emotional depths some other music just can’t reach.