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The Symphony for Peace was withdrawn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
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.