you have ever been to Warsaw
- the city where Panufnik was born and lived for many years
- and which I visited three years ago, one thing will come up
and strike you hard. To appreciate this you must visit the Warsaw
History Museum in the Old Town Market Square. There you will see hundreds of photos of the city taken during the
war and soon after. The scenes are of complete devastation.
The city was flattened so that almost nothing remained. It is
especially difficult to realize this as so much has now been
rebuilt painstakingly and lovingly just as it had been. The
is this sense of rebuilding the past, cherishing it and respecting
it that inhabits the music presented here. It was almost as
if in the late 1940s and 1950s Poland was searching for its identity. Under
Stalin and his successors the task was almost impossible. This
music represents in microcosm this rebuilding process. Panufnik
stands as one of its prime architects. He was Poland’s
leading composer and conductor throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Although Lutosławski was highly regarded he is more of
an international figure. Panufnik, although moving to England
in 1954, always seems to have retained much that was Polish
as this CD testifies.
of the best composer autobiographies ever is ‘Composing Myself’
(Methuen, London, 1987). It is Panufnik’s life story told with
colour and with aching truthfulness. In it he tearfully points
out how all of his very early music - that written up to his
thirties - was destroyed when Warsaw was destroyed. He recounts how he had to start his professional life
from scratch after the war. Later he was to come to England for good. I met him once at his comfortable
home by the Thames
in Twickenham. I was taken by a priest friend and remember little
except that the composer talked of the evil of the regime and
“how” (I wrote in my diary) Rustica - that is the Sinfonia
Rustica of 1948 - was decried, no longer to exist and how
some composers cracked under the suppression.
you hear the ‘Hommage to Chopin’ on this disc you are
very near both in time and sound to the ‘Sinfonia Rustica’.
Panufnik makes no attempt to write a piece in the style of Chopin
or to use any Chopin melodies. He simply writes in his own style.
It must also be remembered that the war also annihilated the
original ‘Chopin Salle’ now thoughtfully and beautifully reconstructed.
Similarly razed to the ground was the Chopin Museum which, incidentally,
containsthe wonderful cast of Chopin’s hand. All of this is
right on Panufnik’s doorstep and very much a part of his inheritance.
how should we hear this music? Perhaps a good starting point
is to consider Warlock’s Capriol Suite for strings which
uses Renaissance melodies. The opening work here is the five
movement Old Polish Suite, also for strings, which uses
traditional dances and ancient melodies. It comes out the same
duration as the Warlock. You might also consider Respighi’s
Ancient airs and dances whilst listening to the Concerto
in Modo Antico. This is scored for trumpet, timpani, two
harps, harpsichord and strings and falls into several sections
using melodies from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries.
Rather curiously and annoyingly it is allotted only one track.
Nevertheless the tunes are quite contrasted and well chosen
by the composer to be memorable.
the Jagiellonian Triptych is a short work of just three
movements. It is a stylistic pastiche. The title refers to an
imaginary altar piece. The whole work was written in England,
steeped in nostalgia and is imaginary of a past Poland. This was quite appropriate as it was commissioned to be performed
in London at
a concert to celebrate the Millennium of Polish Christianity.
The rather homophonic middle movement sounds something like
a solemn hymn.
is an altogether curious disc. The music is by a composer of considerable
stature demonstrating a side facet of his work that has, up until
now, been almost entirely unknown. Performances both by the orchestra
and the soloists are excellent, stylistically aware and tempi
seem to be most suitable. The recording is vivid and brings the
music to life.
see also Review
by Hubert Culot
Conway's article on Panufnik's symphonies