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Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b. 1933)
Die Teufel von Loudun (1969) [106.02]
Jeanne - Tatiana Troyanos (mezzo); Urbain Grandier - Andrej Hiolsky (baritone); Vater Barré - Bernard Ladysz  (bass); Vater Rangier - Hans Sotin (bass); Vater Mignon - Horst Wilhelm (tenor); Adam - Kurt Marschner (tenor); Mannoury - Heinz Blankenburg (baritone); Baron de Laubardemont - Helmut Melchert (tenor)
Chor und Orchester der Hamburgischen Staatsoper/Marek Janowski
rec. Hamburg, 1969
PHILIPS 4463282 [68.42 + 37.20]


First the bad news. This set, originally issued in 1970, is not currently available on CD. That said, as the esteemed Dan Morgan has pointed out, there is an Arthaus DVD: Arthaus Musik DVD 101279. Now the good news: Hope springs eternal! If there is any justice, the powers that be will re-release this important recording post-haste. 

Die Teufel von Loudun (The Devils of Loudun) had its premiere on 20 June 1969 in Hamburg, Germany with this same orchestra. In fact they commissioned the work. The score calls for very large orchestral forces including: two Alto Saxophones, two Baritone Saxophones, Piano, Organ, Harmonium, Electric Bass Guitar, four Percussionists and “nastro magnetico con scampanata” (tape). 

The libretto is by Penderecki himself using a translation by the German poet Erich Fried. It is based on the dramatization by John Whiting of the 1952 novella by Aldous Huxley. This recounts an actual event in Loudun, France in 1634. In his telling of the story, Huxley delved into spiritual questions such as the nature of self-transcendence and the relationship between nature and grace. It is not casual reading, to say the least! Penderecki simplifies and concentrates on the handsome but doomed Urbain Grandier’s fight against fanaticism and evil. His focus is more on the symbolism in the story than on the historical aspects. 

This is a tale laced with sex and with sexual frustration, with bigotry, hatred, torture, sadism, a witch trial and an eventual burning at the stake thrown in for good measure; interested now? Perhaps Nicolas Slonimsky described it all best in his own characteristic way as: “dealing with a furor uternis among nuns of Loudun struck by a multifutuent incubus personified by a neighboring monastic youth”.

Poland in the Stalin era was exceedingly repressive; imagine a major 20th century composer being forbidden from hearing a work such as Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps until he was 24! After the Stalin era everything changed. Penderecki’s “discovery” of Schoenberg, Webern and Boulez decided his path. It was Boulez’s Improvisation sur Mallarmé (1957-59) which had the greatest early influence. The most popular work from this early “avant-garde” period is undoubtedly the Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1959-61), the work that brought him international fame. 

Die Teufel applies the most extreme devices of that period in its vocal and instrumental parts. Even so, one can hear the continued turning away from the earlier systems of “noise” and “clusters” towards a “longer line” style of composing distinct in his masterpiece the Saint Luke Passion (1966), the first really long piece he composed. 

Die Teufel von Loudun was not Penderecki’s first reference to atrocity; the Threnody (Hiroshima) and the Dies Irae (Auschwitz) of 1967 preceded it. It has much in common with Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel and with Robert Ward’s The Crucible in addressing the relationship of sexual neurosis with religious obsession. The lay-out is in three acts, split into 32 scenes. The demands of rapid and frequent change in the music keep the dramatic content high and the tension at fever pitch. There is singing, screaming, speaking and even laughing. The chorus also shouts and screams. Everywhere there are rapid changes produced by the instruments used as they are in small groups. 

Although the cast is exceptional to a man and woman, the star here is the late, great Tatiana Troyanos and her memorable portrayal of Jeanne. She portrays sexual dementia with a ferocious intensity yet with her characteristic “buttery” mezzo. Baritone Andrej Hiolsky’s portrayal of the condemned Grandier is both moving and exciting as he heartbreakingly maintains his innocence and is subsequently publicly tortured and burned at the stake. Bernard Ladysz as Barré, the excorcist is in fine voice. Special mention should be made of the young Hans Sotin as Rangier. 

The recording is executed beautifully; the analog to digital (ADD) transfer crystal clear. The Hamburg State Chorus and Orchestra under the leadership of Chorus master Gunther Schmidt-Bohlander and Marek Janowski respectively are nothing short of spectacular. Philips delivered a very luxurious package of a separate booklet and libretto supplying a full text in German - the language of this performance - and English translation. 

In the end Die Teufel is about fear and pity, intolerance, heresy and hypocrisy – Jeanne silently praying as Grandier is burning to death … 

This set is a significant document of one of the more important figures of the latter part of the 20th century in modern music. I strongly urge its re-release and/or a new recording - perhaps by an enterprising label such as Naxos or CPO.

Osvaldo Polatkan



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