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Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Sinfonia Elegiaca (1957, rev. 1966) [21:47]
(I. Molto Andante [8:37]; II. Molto Allegro [7:19]; III. Molto Andante [5:54])
Nocturne (1947, rev. 1955) [14:08]
Rhapsody (1956) [15:45]
Louisville Orchestra/Robert S. Whitney
Executive producer: Matthew Walters
Original supervising producer: Howard Scott
Recorded: 1961, 1965, 1966, Louisville, Kentucky
Annotation: Marco Shirodkar
Partial funding generously provided by the National Endowment for the Arts
world premiere recordings

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The Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik eventually fled his homeland when the Soviet regime came to power and settled in the United Kingdom. There he continued to write music and secure a measure of performance attention. The BBC duly marked his various key birthdays with studio concerts often conducted by the man himself even if he was usually allocated one of the regional orchestras (BBC Scottish or BBC Northern). In addition he conducted the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra during the 1950s. It was Panufnik who conducted the premiere of Rubbra’s Seventh Symphony with the CBSO and during the 1958/59 season he conducted his Sinfonia Elegiaca in Birmingham.

The story of the Sinfonia Elegiaca is involved. In 1951 Panufnik wrote a Symphony for Peace. He conducted the premiere with the Warsaw Philharmonic in May that year. This first performance was a success with the audience but the official response was chilly. In February 1955 Stokowski conducted the work in Detroit. Panufnik attended. He was dissatisfied with the work and this factor combined with the copyright exigencies of contractual arrangements with Booseys to publish all his works impelled various changes. The Symphony for Peace was withdrawn and the Elegiaca emerged like a phoenix. The new symphony, his second, was finished in 1957 and dedicated to the victims of the Second World War. In January 1957 it was premiered at Houston with Stokowski conducting. The Louisville Orchestra recorded it in 1961 preserving the original version. Panufnik revised it in 1966. It was first issued on LP as LS 671.

As Paul Conway has written, the Elegiaca ‘is one of Panufnik’s most powerful and poignant statements. Its depth of feeling is remarkable in the output of this most fastidious and controlled of composers - perhaps some of the raw emotion in the Symphony of Peace was retained.’

The work is presented by Whitney in its three movement format. Later it was recast into one continuous movement. The work opens in invocatory prayer rising patiently and unhurried to dignified eloquence. Panufnik is always good at those hymn-like paeans and his sincerity burns its way into the listener’s consciousness. Long string lines rise in clouds of supplication, the argument is carried forward by woodwind figures. The central panel thrusts the spirituality to one side and brutally drives the action forward in a whirl of fury. Brass snarl providing rhythmic fibre, the percussion rattles and protests but at 2:01 in the second movement the strings return with a heroically confident theme which is developed and taken back by the brass before the return of the Blitzkrieg. The final segment, Molto andante, is chastened, cool and touched with disillusion.

In Nocturne the composer melds the voice of Berg into his own vocabulary. It is a single movement work that sounds positively nightmarish. There is a tension and threat in the viscera of this piece. A nocturne it may be but it is not about untroubled sleep. At moments such as 4.50 the composer’s way with benign and prayerful supplication asserts itself in the radiance of slowly moving long-held violin lines extremely high in the register. However this is a route towards the scarring and malevolently braying brass statements, slow and punctuated by a steady timpani pulse. The work dies back into an exhausted silence - typical of Panufnik. The work won the Szymanowski prize in 1947 and was premiered in Paris in 1948 when it was conducted by the composer.

Lastly comes the Rhapsody. It was the first work written by the composer after his arrival in England. It was premiered by the composer conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra on 11 January 1957. Both Rhapsody and three years later Polonia. The burden of Polish folk song is carried by the quietly penetrating timbre of the oboe over the discreet trilling of the rest of the orchestra. A Bachian stillness pervades at 5:30 rising to a glow of nostalgia in the high trilling at the end of the first of the three sections of the work (all separately tracked). The second section makes play with the Mazurek and the Krakowiak and is much more vigorous - like a cross between the demonstrative sections of Bartók’s Dance Suite, Copland’s Outdoor Overture and Tippett’s Second Symphony. The third segment is stately in pacing moving down through the gears from a quasi-Handelian grandness gradually down to a fragile and gently soloistic skein.
Nocturne and Rhapsody are in stereo and were recorded within twelve months of each other.

There are xcellent notes from Marco Shirodkar and Matthew Walters.

Panufnik is one of those composers whose sound-world you can recognise in other works once you are familiar with a handful of his pieces. Music that is gentle and terrible, serious and prayerful: Panufnik is one of those composers whose humanitarian philosophy one can perceive through the eloquent expression of his music.

Rob Barnett

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