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Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b. 1933)
A Polish Requiem (1980/4)
Izabella Klosínska (soprano); Jadwiga Rappé (alto); Ryszard Minkiewicz (tenor); Piotr Nowacki (bass)
Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir/Henryk Wojnarowski
Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
Recorded: Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, 27–30 May, 1-3 June 2003
NAXOS 8.557386-87 [53:43 + 45:45]


Make no mistake, this is an exceptional recording of a massive and very moving work. Just too long to fit on a single CD, it is issued on two separate discs, each of relatively short playing time. This is not a drawback, given the quality of the work and the performance.

Criticised by many for using Eastern European (and hence cheap) ensembles for their orchestral recordings, Naxos need not be in the least bit concerned about their recordings from this source. The Polish National Philharmonic have turned in a number of first class performances for the company over the years, and this one is no exception.

Penderecki wrote this Polish Requiem over a number of years in bits and pieces, each being written to commemorate a specific happening. In 1993, they were brought together by the composer as this completed work. For example we have the Lacrimosa written as a memorial piece for the Gdansk dockworkers and for Lech Walesa. The Agnus Dei was written as a tribute to the Polish religious figure Cardinal Wyszynski. Other sections treated in this way were Recordare Jesu pie - the beatification of Father Maximillian Kolbe for substituting himself for another prisoner in Auschwitz. The Dies Irae appears as a fortieth anniversary remembrance of the Warsaw uprising against the Nazis.

From this one might assume that the completed work would sound bitty and dis-jointed, but not at all from this performance. Recorded previously for both DG and Chandos, this version supersedes both. Whilst the recording quality is not as good as the Chandos release, the commitment of the performance makes this newcomer take the first slot in the pile.

Soloists are first-rate, and all sing with the fervour one would expect from a first recording. That this is not, makes the performance all the more notable. The choir and orchestra acquit themselves admirably, and Naxos’s recording quality, whilst not in the Chandos league, is realistic enough to please all but the most finicky. To give a guide, this is the typical Naxos recording, set back from the musicians, giving as far as possible, a realistic “concert-hall” acoustic. This gives the artists acoustic room to expand their sound when necessary.

One concern I have always had about works like this – where their gestation time is extended and their inspiration varied - is that they may appear disjointed and that the seams will show. Fortunately here Penderecki’s idiom is reasonably consistent and the various sources are indistinguishable from each other.

The choir sings fervently, aided and abetted by the conductor and more than ably supported by the orchestra, throughout the sixteen separate sections of the requiem. This double album makes a welcome addition to the series in progress. The St. Luke Passion is already available as are the orchestral works including the violin concertos and some of the symphonies.

In many cases this Naxos project comes into direct competition with the composer’s own recordings, but Naxos need not fear as their versions is developing very successfully. Strongly recommended.

John Phillips

see also Review by Hubert Culot




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