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Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Heroic Overture (1952) [6:58]
Sinfonia di Sfere (1975) [33:48]
Landscape (1962) [8:29]
Sinfonia Sacra (1963) [29:35]
Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds
rec. Tampere Hall, October 2006. DDD
booklet with liner notes in English, German, French, Finnish
ONDINE ODE 1101-5 CD/SACD [75:27]

This handsomely presented premium price anthology drawn from Panufnik’s orchestral music is recorded with integrity and performed with devout brilliance.

Ondine have shown great honesty in conveying the orchestral sound without spotlighting or other intensifying artifice. Even so in the Heroic Overture my preference remains for the 1960s analogue recording as issued on Unicorn. There is one interpretative difference between Storgårds and Jascha Horenstein on Unicorn. In the last few bars the vituperative accelerando is taken at a frenetic pace by Storgårds; more so than by the composer.

There’s quite a lot of stylistic blue sky, not to mention a couple of decades, between the Heroic Overture and the elliptical expressive world of the Sinfonia di Sfere. It is in seven segments here separately tracked. It is the sixth of Panufnik’s ten symphonies. The symphony manages to be both peaceful as you might expect from Music of the Spheres yet also troubled and violent. Brutality is expressed through the salvos and tirades of the molto allegro (tr. 6) with lots of catapulted and left-right bounced percussion and drums. I had recently been listening to Tüür’s Fourth Symphony Magma so that particular aspect was familiar even if Tüür’s approach is more manic. The abruptly cut-off final segment returns to barbarity with the percussion shots accentuated by a woodwind shriek. It’s all the more shocking after the andante in which the piano entreats peace amid rumbling disturbance. I have yet to sense the claimed geometrical-mathematical cohesion of this work though I read in the notes that it’s there. This a symphony that remains episodic if impressive.

Landscape is intended to evoke some interior psychological landscape, perhaps in Suffolk, perhaps in the Poland from which Panufnik had been dispossessed. Its tremulous and whisper-quiet keening is redolent of both Pärt and Copland. This is a communing typical of the prayerful murmuring in Sinfonia Sacra. It gradually rises to a throbbingly soulful paean then falls back again into a silence interceded by a shredded whistle from stratospheric violins – fallible and vulnerable.

Sacra is resonantly recorded and is sensibly placed last in the playing order. Those echoingly glorious fanfares have never been done to such telling effect. The Tallis-like blissful exhaustion of the velvety Larghetto is deeply moving. Vision III has another violent and viscerally exciting barrage of brass and percussion matched by a deeply exciting climax on the wing at 1:30. After three short movements the symphony ends with a sustained Hymn spanning 14:23. This builds from a barely audible whistle and whisper of high violins. Panufnik makes inventive use of the oscillation and ululation of high strings over an underpinning rumble of deep woodwind. It brings a lump to the throat. The music progresses at a noble - almost Brucknerian – pace which rises to real magnificence at 12:39. The whole is thuddingly well recorded. Quite apart from doing justice to Panufnik’s loud oratory it also extracts every mote of emotion from the extensive quiet intoning. The throbbing and tolling finale has never sounded as majestic as this!

There’s just a twinge of regret that Ondine and Storgards did not select the Sinfonia Elegiaca in place of Sinfonia di Sfere and the Tragic Overture in place of Landscape. That aside this is a fine and often moving entry in the Panufnik catalogue. It’s more easily accessible than the CD Accord disc by Kord (includes Sacra, Symphony 10 and Piano Concerto) and less esoteric than the Atherton disc on Explore (di Sfere and Mistica in mid 1970s analogue). At mid-price and with generous timing there is an all-Panufnik disc on EMI Classics which is also well worth exploring. The EMI includes the early Sacra and Rustica conducted by the composer in pioneering recordings (Monte Carlo, 1967) as well as the much later and drier Sinfonia Concertante (0946 3 52289 2 2).

The photos in the Ondine booklet are well worth having. They include a full studio portrait of Panufnik smoking a curvaceous Sherlockian pipe. Even more rare is the atmospheric picture of the composer in 1944 conducting an orchestra in Warsaw. These otherwise unpublished photographs are from the personal collection of Panufnik's widow, Lady Camilla Jessel Panufnik. The extensive and satisfying notes are by Bernard Jacobson.

I heard this in its CD format not as an SACD.

Rob Barnett


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