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Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Sinfonia Sacra (1963) [21.09]
Symphony No. 10 (1988-1990) [15.56]
Cello Concerto (1991) [19.19]
Andrzej Bauer (cello)
Warsaw Philharmonic-National Orchestra of Poland/Kazimierz Kord
rec. Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall, Jan 2000 (Sacra, 10), March 2000 (Concerto). DDD
CD ACCORD ACD 072-2 [55.35]

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Two symphonies and a concerto by Panufnik. The concerto and the Tenth Symphony are from Panufnik's last decade. The Sacra is his most popular symphony and no wonder. With its accessible spirituality and echoing gritty fanfares it instantly grips the attention. The first part finds its cousin in such works as Gorecki's Third Symphony and John Adams' The Wound Dresser. The fanfares are distinctively Panufnik and are of a type also found in the Heroic Overture and Tragic Overture.

The Sinfonia Sacra bids fair alongside the two overtures to be Panufnik’s most famous pieces - surely played more often than his many other concert works. It is the epitome of Panufnik’s cleanly antiphonal brass writing and his stunningly contrasted prayerful writing for strings - in one long and sustained hushed breath of prayer - like a yet more inward Tippett and Vaughan Williams (Concerto for Double String Orchestra middle movement against the spirituality of the Tallis Fantasia). Any new recording has to contend with the composer’s ground breaking version with the Monte Carlo Orchestra. This was made in 1961 originally by Pathé-Marconi although its LP life was best known from its appearance with the Rustica on a Unicorn LP then on Unicorn CD UKCD 2020 in 1989. The composer’s other recording is slightly quicker and for me does not have the same degree of inwardness as the Unicorn or the Kord. This is on Nonesuch 7559-079228-2ZK.

The CD Accord version has the inestimable advantage of modern sound although the differences between the superb Unicorn sound from almost forty years ago are nowhere near as divergent as you might have guessed. The final hymn is extremely well done by Kord and his Warsaw orchestra catching well the splintered quiet whistle that was also used by Allan Pettersson in his extraordinary sorrowing Seventh Symphony (still best experienced in the 1960s Dorati version on Swedish Society Discofil) - beauty and sadness melting - separating, resolving, sliding.

The Cello Concerto was completed only days before Panufnik’s death. It is typical of the composer with its long inward Adagio followed by a flashingly active Vivace the whole lasting less than twenty minutes. I was able to compare the first recording which was on a NMC single (NMC D010S) with Rostropovich. The London Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Hugh Wolff. That recording was made at the Abbey Road studios on 25 June 1992 the day after its premiere at the Barbican. And eight months after the composer’s death. The vivace in the CD Accord version does not have the hectic patter and tension of the Rostropovich version though things are presented with a feeling of greater clarity. Overall I have to favour the NMC version if you can find it though Andrzej Bauer’s artistry is extremely sympathetic to the composer’s writing.

I do not have a comparison for the Tenth Symphony in 1989-90. This work plays for just under fifteen minutes with much brazen, violent and vitriolic writing in which there is also some underpinning of tragedy. This is Panufnik’s only untitled symphony and it is his last. It was written for and premiered by Solti and the Chicago orchestra. Rather like Havergal Brian’s 22nd Symphony Sinfonia Brevis and Rubbra’s Eleventh this work repays repeated hearings. Its warmly bathed eloquence and quiet rapture is best captured through the very same long-breathed prayer of contentment that sings with self-effacing reflection through the last four minutes of the piece.

This is an exultantly well planned and executed collection - generously timed and most sensitively done. It would have been a world-beater if only we could have had the Sinfonia Elegiaca rather than the Concerto.

Rob Barnett

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