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
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.
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.
see also Review
by Dan Morgan