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Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b. 1933)
Violin Sonata No. 1 (1953) [7.46]
Miniatures (1959) [3.56]
Cadenza for solo viola (1984) (trans. by Christiane Edinger, 1987)
Violin Sonata No. 2 (2000) [36.57]
Ida Bieler, violin and Nina Tichman, piano
Recorded at Konzertgalerie II Bagno, Burgsteinfurt, 2, 11, 12 June 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557253 [55.59]


This is a fascinating disc as it brings together early and late Penderecki, a composer whose early ‘avant garde’ style lurched suddenly ‘backwards’ in the late 1970s with the neo-Romanticism of his First Violin Concerto. While Penderecki’s First Violin Sonata is, basically, an apprentice piece, the Miniatures of a few years later show him influenced by the avant-garde of Darmstadt. The Second Sonata, from 2000, is an example of how Penderecki can write in a modern idiom and yet still appeal to a relatively large audience through its mixture of drama and sonic variety.

It’s no surprise that the 20 year old composer’s Violin Sonata (No. 1) should sound like Shostakovich as the composer himself stated in an interview:-

‘For three years, my first teacher had me write in a different style every week: a piano piece in the style of Brahms, next week Debussy, Beethoven, Honegger, Chopin, and so on. I never really wrote my own music … a violin-piano sonata I wrote when I was twenty, sort of in the style of Shostakovich.’ (Tom Pniewski, Penderecki at Sixty - Poland's Global Voice,, accessed May 2004)

I’m sure I can also hear both Bartok and Szymanowski lurking in the sonata and the Andante, in particular, is fabulous. By the time of the Miniatures, written six years later, the influential voice – as the form suggests – is that of Webern. However, he had moved beyond imitating the masters to breaking conventions in terms of the sounds that standard instruments could make. He broke the fetters of conventional musical notation allowing him to create such early masterpieces as his breakthrough piece, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960).

The major work on this CD is the first recording of the recent Second Sonata. As Penderecki’s fame has grown, his composing has taken a back seat to his conducting. In addition, his increased popularity has resulted in his being more suspiciously viewed by the ‘critical establishment’. Nicholas Reyland writes how Penderecki’s later work has been characterised by a ‘broadstroke approach’ that ‘carries the listener (or viewer) along, no matter how foreign or disorientating the immediate landscape might be’ (Arks and Labyrinths,, accessed May 2004). This isn’t simply a case of elitist critics looking down on a composer because he is popular; the ‘broadstroke approach’ must inevitably sacrifice subtlety for dramatic gesture (there’s no reason why both cannot be combined in music).

From a pragmatic viewpoint, you either like the music or you don’t. For listeners who are hesitant about trying modern music then contemporary Penderecki is an ideal starting place, particularly via a Naxos bargain such as this. I found the sonata a marvellous piece and enjoyed the drama as well as the longeurs of the nearly 13 minute Adagio. The segue into the second movement has the swagger of Schnittke and the penultimate movement builds up to a fantastic climax where the pianist suddenly seems to lose her temper and smack down a random discord; the concluding Andante is more of a postlude.

The other piece on the disc, the cadenza for his viola concerto offers little when divorced from its context; it’s little more than a filler. Both the American artists, Ida Bieler and Nina Tichman, play with total commitment and no little skill and are marvellous advocates for the works. The recorded sound is excellent.

Nick Lacey

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