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Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874 – 1951)
A Survivor from Warsaw Op.46 (1947)a
Nancy VAN DE VATE (born 1930)

Katyn (1989)
Krakow Concerto (1988)
Krysztof PENDERECKI (born 1933)

Dies Irae (1967)b
Daniel Olbrychski (narrator); Olga Szwajgier (soprano)b; Zygmund Jankowski (tenor)b; Leonard Mroz (bass)b; Polish Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra and Chorus;
Szymon Kawalla
Recorded: Philharmonic Hall, Krakow, November-December 1989


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The works on this disc, performed during a concert in Krakow, dedicated to the victims of war and its survivors, were recorded a few days later with the same performers. All works are related, in one way or another, to the terrible events that occurred in Poland during World War II.

Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw Op.46 is probably one of his best known pieces, and the one that has caught the audience’s attention in the most direct way because, though serially organised, the music is set as a melodrama capped by a rousing choral Finale. The whole piece is fairly straightforward (by Schoenberg’s standards) and communicates in most direct terms. I once attended a concert performance of it years ago and the audience’s reaction was immediate. It may not be Schoenberg’s greatest masterpiece but, to put it bluntly, it works!

Nancy Van de Vate’s Katyn for mixed chorus and orchestra is an elegy in memory of the Polish victims of the Katyn massacre, in which Russian troops slaughtered Polish intellectuals and dignitaries. (Panufnik’s deeply-felt Katyn Epitaph was also inspired by the same terrible events.) The work’s material includes a Polish folk tune (clarinet and viola in the very first bars), echoes from the Dies Irae and of a motet Tu pauperum refugium by Josquin des Près. The "traditional" material is constantly disrupted or attacked by dissonant or angry orchestral outbursts. A quite gripping work.

Van de Vate’s Krakow Concerto for percussion (six players) and orchestra is not directly related to war events but rather to the history of Krakow. Thus the off-stage bugle call that opens the piece recalls the Krakow bugler playing from the towers of St. Mary’s Church. Of the five movements, the even-numbered are for percussion only and serve as short dynamic Scherzos whereas the odd-numbered movements are longer and weightier as well. The first movement is the concerto’s actual introduction presenting the basic material on which most of the ensuing music is founded. The third movement is a sort of variations on the expressive melody with which it opens. The final movement is the work’s lyrical epilogue. The Krakow Concerto is a substantial work that could – and should – become popular, given the paucity of works for percussion and orchestra.

Penderecki composed Dies Irae (also known as Auschwitz Oratorio) after the successful performances of his St. Luke Passion. It has much in common with that work, though it is on the whole a less impressive achievement. The text draws on various literary sources: Psalm 116, the Apocalypse, Aeschylus’s Eumenides as well as poems by Broniewski, Aragon, Rózewicz and Valéry. (All the contemporary texts are translated into Latin while the Aeschylus fragments are sung in Greek.) The scoring is for very substantial orchestra with a large percussion section, though without violins, violas and clarinets, the latter being replaced by saxophones. The choral writing often uses divisions (up to 24 parts at times) and mixes song, speech and chant with a variety of unusual vocal effects, as it did in the masterly St. Luke Passion. Dies Irae may well be an occasional piece, but it is nevertheless a substantial work as well as a deeply-felt statement.

All performances are more than adequate, often very fine and always committed. I found that of A Survivor from Warsaw a bit cautious (or is it due to the acoustics) in spite of Olbrychski’s eloquent delivery of the text. All the works here have an unquestionably universal appeal that far transcends the concert which gave rise to this recording.

Hubert Culot

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