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Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b. 1933)
Sicut locutus est (from Magnificat) (1973/74) [2.18]
Stabat Mater (1963) [7.06]
Ize Cheruwimy (1987) [6.01]
Ut quid Domine (from St. Lukas Passion) (1965) [ 1.22]
Sanctus (2009) [1.44]
Benedictus (2009) [3.29]
Benedicamus Domino (1992) [2.51]
Miserere (from St. Lukas Passion) (1965) [3.23]
Benedictum Dominum (1992) [2.26]
De Profundis (from Seven Gates of Jerusalem) (1996) [4.43]
In pulverem moris (from St. Lukas Passion) (1965) [5.13]
Agnus Dei (from Polish Requiem) (1981) [6.18]
Bede Cie wielbil, Panie (from Psalms of David) (1958) [1.38]
Kaczka pstra (2008) [1.33]
Aria (from Three Pieces in Old Style) (1963) [1.49]
Polski Chor Kameralny (Polish Chamber Choir)/Jan Lukaszewski
rec. Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw, December 2008
DUX 0694 [57.41] 
Experience Classicsonline

The title of this disc rather confused me: “Krzysztof Penderecki - Complete Choral Works / Wszystkie dzieta choralne”. I even checked with a Polish friend to make sure nothing had been lost in translation. My confusion arose because Penderecki’s choral output would fill far more than the single CD presented here. What it turns out we have is an assemblage of all the unaccompanied choral music that the composer wrote; not only the complete pieces but extracting various movements from longer works - so that we have single movements taken from the Polish Requiem and St. Lukas Passion. The disc is part of an unfolding Penderecki Edition being produced by Dux.

The resulting recital covers a large chunk of Penderecki’s career with music ranging in date from 1958 to 2008. There are sixteen pieces in all lasting a total of 57 minutes, none of them is long and they range in duration from something over a minute to seven minutes. There are rather too many short pieces for my taste, half of them last under three minutes each.

Penderecki’s style has changed over the years and in many ways his later works appear more conventional. The earliest ones such as the Stabat Mater for three choirs a cappella (the longest piece on the disc) embody a style which I think of as clusters, sighs and whispers. The material is all evanescence, textures and hints of motifs. Much is quietness, though there are contrasts, and you feel that clarity of texture is the most important thing here. The seminal work from Penderecki’s earlier period is the St. Lukas Passion which is represented here just by two unaccompanied movements. The later Polish Requiem provides another extracted movement, this time the Agnus Dei, one of the most challenging pieces on the disc.

The choir, the Polish Chamber Choir, handle this material brilliantly. They sing with lovely clear tones and give Penderecki’s textures a crystalline purity.

The works from the 1980s all seem to emphasise the importance of texture and contrast, but a sort of neo-renaissance polyphony takes the place of the sighs and whispers, though clusters remain important. This neo-renaissance style takes polyphonic outlines but mixes them with a more modern harmonic language, making the pieces more angular and less comfortable. Such pieces as Ize Cheruwimy and Benedicamus Domino are exemplars here. 

Finally, in the most recent works, Penderecki’s style approaches the most conventional, with the Sanctus and Benedictus for female chorus having traditional outlines, and Kaczka pstra sounding like a folk-song arrangement.  

In some works such as the Veni Creator Spiritus the upper voices display some strain, but generally the performances from the Polish Chamber Choir under Jan Lukaszeweki are admirable.

The booklet provides a brief biography of Penderecki plus an article about the pieces. This concentrates on Penderecki’s spiritual qualities at the expense of information on the development of his style. There are no texts which might be a problem for some people when listening to this music.

I am not really sure how widely attractive this disc might be. Some people will be genuinely interested in Penderecki’s unaccompanied choral music and keen to have the disc to place the music in context of other works on other discs. For the newcomer the disc provides a rather fragmented and etiolated recital and in this context, despite some very fine singing, it is ultimately unsatisfactory.

Robert Hugill 



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