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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Symphony No. 8 Sinfonia Votiva (1981) [22.02]
Roger SESSIONS (1896-1985)

Concerto for Orchestra (1981) [16.03]
Boston SO/Seiji Ozawa
rec 30 Jan 1981, Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts DDD
HYPERION CDH55100 [38.06]


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This is in part for the taut intellectual tastes and reflexes of modernists although, quite properly, the appeal of Panufnik's music is to a wider compass.

The two works share a common fons et origo: the commemoration of the Bostonians' centennial. They were written in (comparatively) modern times by composers in their high maturity. Linguistically the two speak a different tongue. The Sessions piece is in a single movement playing for a minute over fifteen minutes. In my experience of the orchestral Sessions he was pretty consistently dodecaphonic but old age in this case wrung from him a dreamy expressionistic beauty. Still this is arduous going expressive in a language beloved of the musical elite of the sixties and seventies. Sessions' First Symphony was given by the Bostonians in 1927 and his Third in 1957. The composer clearly harboured great affection for the orchestra.

Panufnik touches off different reactions. He was a composer of music that typically alternates quiet and loud, slow and fast, meditative and exuberant. This dichotomy can also be traced in works such as the Piano Concerto and the symphonies Elegiaca, Sfere and Mistica. The changes are usually stark rather than built. His music has it in its fabric to be accessible and quickly rewarding without being facile. The Votiva is in two movements: the first a contemplative andante in which the dynamic landscape migrates between piano and pianissimo. Ideas and orchestration are of chamber music clarity - quiet, clean, prayerful and sincere touched by Bartók (a voice I also traced in the music of Viteszlava Kapralova on a Studio Matous disc). This could easily have been a movement from a string quartet. Panufnik is an adept of patterning and a step towards minimalism. The second movement is fast and often loud in the manner of the Grimes storm. It is nowhere near as belligerent as in the glorious and unaccountably neglected Elegiaca. Those who have the Louisville Edition LP can sample this fine work. The abruptness of the end of the second movement of Votiva (and of the symphony) is a weak spot.

The Votiva was written without programmatic intent but with the Black Madonna of Czestochowa in mind as well as the early eighties rise of the Solidarnosc movement under the leadership of Lech Walesa.

Technically this disc showed that digital was not the glassy inferior to analogue claimed by those early days Luddites you came across far more frequently in the early 80s than you do now. As an audio artefact this pairing has always stood tall from the time of its first issue in the vinyl twilight of 1982.

The two composers provide thorough programme notes with musical technicalities balanced with biographical backdrop.

The Sessions was premiered on 23 October 1981; the Panufnik on 28 January 1982. The recording sessions pre-dated the concert premieres in Boston.

Short commons in playing time.

Rob Barnett


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