PENDERECKI (b. 1933)
Orchestral Works, Volume 2.
Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5.
National Polish Radio Symphony
Orchestra (Katowice)/Antoni Wit.
Naxos 8.554567 [68'06]
The systematic recording of Penderecki's orchestral output is a commendable
exercise, and Naxos seems to be relishing the challenge. They even have the
advantage of an authentically Polosh orchestra! Furthermore, the coupling
of the First and Fifth symphonies works remarkably well, and anyone wishing
to investigate this composers' sound-world should not hesitate.
The First Symphony (placed second on the disc) was premiered in 1973. Its
arresting, percussive opening seems to pose a question, in response to which
Penderecki takes us on a searching, fascinating journey. What seems increasingly
clear as one listens (if one did not know already) is that Penderecki is
the master of the grand gesture. Memorably scored blocks of sound can be
juxtaposed with other, seemingly unrelated passages in the blink of an eye.
Its four sections are played without a break. After the expertly-scored first
movement ('Arche I'), with its grinding dissonances, the powerful, complex
sonorities of the second movement ('Dynamis I') are portrayed here in the
bleakest of terms. This desolate sound-scape is a perfect foil for the ghostly
scherzo of the next movement, 'Dynamis II'. Here the National Polish Radio
Symphony Orchestra could have been even more alive to the transient harmonic
shifts - certainly a more spacious recording would have helped, too. In the
faster, more explosive passages they seem to grow in confidence and the whole
experience becomes all the more convincing for it.
Dating from almost twenty years later (it was premiered in 1992), the Fifth
Symphony is a single-movement span lasting nearly forty minutes. The National
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra's violins show remarkably little strain in
some of the more stratospheric lines, but there is a sense of over-exertion
in the fugato passage about five minutes into the work. This is a pity as
there is a cumulative energy to this section which is missed (possibly because
of under-rehearsal?). As in the First Symphony, it is the bleak passages
which come off the best, their very stillness making one hold one's breath.
The 'Scherzo' would need a further injection of mercury before it emerged
in its full quicksilver glory, and the climax of the final section is a little
too much for the microphones so that the sound becomes crowded.
The disc functions mainly, then, as a super-budget indicator of wht a memorable
effect this music really can have. Penderecki has recorded the First Symphony
with the LSO on EMI CDM5 65416-2 (coupled with the First Cello Concerto,
'Emancipations' and the Partita), but, of course, you will have to shell
out more. Richard Whitehouse's excellent booklet notes lead the listener
by the hand through the Pendereckian maze.