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Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b. 1933)
Te Deum (1969/80) [36.46]
Hymne an den heiligen Daniel (1997) [12.14]
Polymorphia (1961) [10.48]
Chaconne (2005) [7.18]
Izabel Klozinska (soprano)
Agnieszka Rehlis (mezzo)
Adam Zdunikowski (tenor)
Piotr Nowacki (bass)
Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir
Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. 5-7, 29 September 2005. Warsaw. DDD
NAXOS 8.557980 [67.06]

Pendereckiís Te Deum was inspired by the anointing of the first Polish Pope, Pope John Paul II. It was premiered, under the composerís direction, at the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi in Krakow. Sombre and massive, this work is not at all the celebratory piece that might have been expected. It is in the composerís monumental, neo-Romantic vein, which he used in other contemporary works such as the First Violin Concerto and the opera Paradise Lost. It plays continuously but divides into three sections, beginning Te Deum laudamus, Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus and Salvum fac populum tuum Domine.

While it may be in the composerís neo-Romantic vein, that does not make it an easy listen; Pendereckiís Modernist roots are still audible. The overall feel is strenuous and dark, the piece opening with timpani rolls. Although there are moments of clarity and moments of lightness, the overall feel is of sombre struggle.

The Te Deum sounds as if it is something of a challenge to sing and the Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir rise to this manfully. It is perhaps understandable that their contribution at times sounds strenuous. They are well supported by the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra, who play the taxing score admirably. More problematic is the role of the four soloists. These sing with a heavy admixture of vibrato. This might indeed be what Penderecki wanted and they do sound typically Eastern European. However, Pendereckiís vocal lines, especially when the four soloists have to sing in complex polyphony, do not really respond to being obscured by vibrato. There were many occasions when I longed to hear the piece sung by voices with more of a sense of line and less wobble.

The sung text is the basic Te Deum in Latin but seems to include a couple of extra passages in Polish both relating directly to Poland.

The performance is impressive, though a little fuzzy at times. Despite its strengths I found the piece overall rather unlovable. It speaks of dark and sombre struggle, but does not radiate anything very spiritual. Perhaps this is a fault of the performance, but I am inclined to think not.

The Te Deum is followed by the Hymne an den heiligen Daniel which, despite its Germanic title, is sung in Church Slavonic. This is a far more affecting piece and comes as something of a relief after the Te Deum. It was first performed in Moscow by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra directed by the composer. Hearing this recording I did wonder whether a more sympathetic acoustic could have been found.

The disc concludes with a pair of orchestral pieces. Polymorphia was written in 1961 and is most definitely Penderecki at his most experimental. The string writing is full of remarkably expressive and advanced techniques, though the textures can get pretty dense. The Chaconne was written in memory of Pope John Paul II and bears the subtitle, In memoria Giovanni Paolo II. It was written in 2005 and first performed that year, though the composer regards it as a late addition to his Polish Requiem.

This is in many ways an admirable disc, further evidence of Naxosís commitment to the music of Penderecki, played by Polish forces. It might be possible to think of slightly better recordings of these pieces. But it is good to have them recorded by Polish forces and at a price which means that the listener can experiment without much danger to the pocket. If Pendereckiís challenging music appeals to you, then do try this disc.

Robert Hugill

see also Review by Dan Morgan


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