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Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Symphony No. 9 Sinfonia della Speranza (1986-1990) [40:54]
Piano Concerto (1962-1982) [23:45]
Ewa Pobłocka (piano)

London Symphony Orchestra/Andrzej Panufnik
rec. 7-9 June 1991, Henry Wood Hall, London. DDD
BMG CATALYST 8287 664280 2 [64:59]

Early days perhaps but since the composer's death Panufnik's music does seem to have slackened its grip on the concert-hall repertoire. Performances were never that numerous but my impression is that they are now fewer than during his lifetime. Some works such as the Heroic and Tragic overtures and the Sinfonia Sacra (all three well worth exploring) are still played ... but not as often. Recordings live on in various reissues but whatever happened to the Decca Headline LP of the Sinfonia di Sfere and the Sinfonia Mistica? The Unicorn-Kanchana CDs of his orchestral music have disappeared from the catalogue. John Kehoe’s Conifer did valuable work for Panufnik but when they folded their CDs also vanished. This is the first reappearance and I hope that the launch of the BMG Catalyst series will be the cue for many other Conifer reissues.

Panufnik's music is spare and whispered for long expanses of time and then explodes into tempests of protest or violence or both. It is not merely irate but furious. The quiet music is marked not just by low volume but by its meditative quality. It has minimalist repetitive aspects but I would not term Panufnik a minimalist composer in the patterns of Nyman, Glass, Reich or Adams. With Panufnik it is less a matter of repetition; more a steady unhurried progression. Often as in the Sinfonia Elegiaca long expanses of prayer-like material are separated by episodes of almost manic fury. The fury is clear-eyed and lucidly presented - different and somehow less complex than the vituperative power of Mennin in his piano concerto and Seventh Symphony. The symphonic tension of Panufnik is between peace and war. He had seen too much of war and its aftermath in Poland both under the Nazis and the Communists. His move to England in 1954 turned out to be a happy decision.

It is hope (Speranza) that forms the subject of the Ninth Symphony. At forty minutes this is the longest of his nine symphonic works. Throughout the harpsichord subtly tints the crystalline progression of the music which deploys a noticeably hymnal melody typical of Panufnik whether in the 1940s or the 1990s. The ideas develop across a single continuous movement which passes through anger as well as a great deal of prayerful music. Panufnik finds a grippingly majestic iterative momentum and symphonic triumph over an extended timescale at 36.03 onwards. And the punched out rhythmic emphatics of the last few minutes deliver a finality which is exciting and awe-inducing.

The Piano Concerto was first written in 1962 and uses splintering dissonance. The first of the three movements is very demonstrative, full of loud full-on dramatic material with plenty of writing for drums. Those thudding taut timpani (as heard at the end of the first movement) are so much a Panufnik hallmark. The long and glacially slow middle larghetto croons consolingly and that archetype of a Panufnik melody rises wraith-like at 8:43. The second movement has the piano rattling and hunting along in Bartókian splinters and flying smithereens while timpani and xylophone add texture to the piano commentary.

These two recordings were made at Panufnik's last recording sessions. He died in October 1991.

A distinguished contribution to the catalogue and one with many rewards. If you are a Panufnik tyro do try to find a Unicorn-Kanchana CD of the Sacra, Heroic and Tragic as your initiation into the work of this undervalued but valuable music.

Rob Barnett

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