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CD: Crotchet

Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b.1933)
Adagietto from “Paradise Lost” (English horn and string orchestra) (1979) [4:54]
Chaconne in memoria del Giovanni Paolo II (2005) [6:41]
Agnus Dei from “Requiem” A version by Boris Pergamenschikow for string orchestra (1994) [7:39]
Intermezzo for 24 strings (1973) [7:21]
De profundis from “Seven Gates of Jerusalem” (1998) [6:08]
Serenade for string orchestra (1996-1997) [8:49]
3 Pieces in Baroque Style after sound-tracks to “The Saragossa Manuscript” for string orchestra (1963)
Sinfonietta per archi (1992) [14:23]
Albrecht Meyer (English horn) Jakub Hufa (violin) Artur Paciorkiewicz (viola) Jerzy Klocek (cello)
Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra/Krzysztof Penderecki
rec. September 2008, Crystal Auditorium of Warsaw University of Life Sciences.
DUX 0678 [62:54]
Experience Classicsonline

Aside from one or two pieces, this disc plays like a ‘best of most gorgeous bits from’ album of Penderecki’s music, something which I, as a more enthusiastic student of the more avant-garde 1960s and 1970s Polish music scene, am just going to have to grow up and deal with.

Recorded in a sumptuous acoustic, the strings of the Sinfonia Varsovia sound as good here as I have ever heard them, and it is this rich carpet of sonority which underlies Albrecht Mayer’s superlative English horn playing in the opening Adagietto. This, like the Agnus Dei and De Profundis is a transcription, but each of these pieces do work on their own, even when removed from the context of much larger scale works. The melancholy beauty of the Adagietto is continued in the Chaconne in memoria del Giovanni Paolo II. Each of these pieces has a strong underlying romanticism, but also enough dramatic toughness to avoid spilling into absolute sentimentality. The descending bass line of the Chaconne could, if given a Milonga rhythm, almost be something Astor Piazzolla might have penned.

Penderecki’s Requiem, perhaps better known as the Polish Requiem, was pretty much an assembly of related movements from an extended creative period anyway, so having the Agnus Dei as a single piece seems more than legitimate. Like all good choral music, the arrangement works well with strings, the close harmonies and quasi-resolving progressions transcending a need for text.

After this sequence of minor-key memorial type pieces, the earlier Intermezzo enters an entirely different world from the start. With its quarter-tone intervals, use of differing string colours and textures, this is fairly typical of the Polish avant-garde I mentioned earlier. In 1973, Penderecki was already moving towards an introduction of recognisable harmonic centres in his first symphony of that same year, and so the Intermezzo might be seen as ‘late’ avant-garde. In comparison with some of Penderecki’s work of the 1960s, this is quite a gentle excursion beyond the surrounding tear-jerkers.

De Profundis comes from Penderecki’s seventh symphony, the “Seven Gates of Jerusalem” (see review of Naxos recording). As with the Agnus Dei, this makes for satisfying string orchestra music, though the intonations rising from the basses from 4:25 and other sections further on are more typically vocal than anything originally for strings. The Serenade most certainly is for string orchestra, opening with a fairly brief but brooding Passacaglia, and followed by a Larghetto which retreats back into more romantic but still dark moods of expression. Penderecki made his own telling remark in response to any criticism one might have about whichever means of expression he uses: “I do not mind how [it] is described, whether as traditional or avant-garde music. For me it is simply authentic. This is enough.” That has to be one of the best put-downs for critics who are determined to put works of music into easily definable boxes.

The final two works are as widely contrasting as you could wish. The 3 Pieces in Baroque Style do what they say on the tin, though it would have been interesting if Penderecki the conductor had had a go at playing them in Baroque Style rather than just giving us More of Same with regard to the plush string tones of the orchestra. These pleasant if rather forgettable sweeties are followed by the gritty Sinfonietta per archi, which opens like the shower scene from ‘Psycho’. This shows the untamed Penderecki, still capable of baring his teeth in a forceful manner. Of the two movements, the first Allegro molto is quite open in texture, filled with solos and widely spaced counterpoint. The second is marked Vivace and has more of an urgent, intense character.

This disc can take its place proudly as part of the Dux label’s Penderecki Special Edition. Superbly recorded and produced with interesting if not very work-specific notes, this is one of those discs which you want to have around for numerous reasons: if not for dancing, then at least for being able to wallow in emotional depths some other music just can’t reach.

Dominy Clements



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