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
. 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
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
provides another extracted movement, this time the Agnus
, 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
and Benedicamus Domino
are exemplars here.
Finally, in the most recent works, Penderecki’s style approaches
the most conventional, with the Sanctus
female chorus having traditional outlines, and Kaczka pstra
like a folk-song arrangement.
In some works such as the Veni Creator Spiritus
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