Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b.1933)
Credo (1998) [49:56]
Cantata in honorem Almae Matris Universitatis Iagellonicae sescentos abhinc annos fundatae (1964) [6:31]
Iwona Hossa, Aga Mikolaj (sopranos), Ewa Wolak (alto), Rafal Bartminski (trenor), Remigiusz Lukomski (bass)
Warsaw Boys’ Choir/Krzysztof Kusiel–Moroz; Warsaw Philharmonic Choir/Henryk Wojnarowski
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. 9 September 2008 (Cantata); 29 September/1 October 2008 (Credo), Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, Poland, DDD
NAXOS 8.572032 [56:27]

Krzysztof Penderecki has come a long way since he hit the musical scene in the early 1960s with his Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima and the St Luke Passion. After the 1st Symphony (1973) his style started to change and the Violin Concerto (1976), and 2nd Cello Concerto (1982), saw a generous new vein of late romantic lyricism enter his work. That’s not to say that he lost his “edge” as a contemporary composer, but he seemed happy in a more relaxed, less angstvoll style. However, more recent works, such as the Horn Concerto, subtitled Winterreise (2007/2008) and Symphony No.8, Lieder der Vergänglichkeit (2004/2005) seem to show him simply going through the motions of composition with neither enthusiasm nor interest.

It is obvious that Penderecki’s career as a conductor influenced his own work – “The kind of music I was conducting influenced my own music very much. During this time [the 1970s] I began to have my Romantic ideas, partly because I was conducting Bruckner, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky.” But one has to wonder if this was a good thing. In an interview given in 2000, with Bruce Duffie, he said, “we pushed music so far in the sixties that even for myself, for me, I closed the door behind me, because there was no way to do anything more than I have done … I decided that there is no way that I can move on.” Certainly not everyone was happy with the change in musical direction. A comment from Bernard Holland, in the New York Times, concerning the American première of the 3rd Symphony, seems to be relevant to the Credo here under discussion – “One would admire more his economy of means, were the means being economized more interesting.”

Credo comes from the very end of the second period, if I may call it that, where the music, although of a more romantic inclination, still has some disturbing undercurrents. But it worries me for although there is some bold choral writing, there is also some very banal orchestral material. Certainly the best music here is for the chorus and when the orchestra is in an accompanying role the writing is interesting but Penderecki seems unable to sustain the level of inspiration throughout the whole work. Credo is a relatively short work, and that’s no bad thing, for there simply isn‘t the material to sustain a bigger structure, of the dimensions of one of the earlier choral and orchestral works. Here, Penderecki seems to have lived up to Holland’s comments regarding the 3rd Symphony, written not long before the Credo.

One would expect the Cantata in Honour of the Alma Mater Jagellonian University Founded Six Hundred Years Ago to be a pièce d’occasion but in fact what we have is a tough, uncompromising essay in the manner of Penderecki’s 1960s style, but toned down a little as befits such an obviously public work. I have to say that the disk is worth having for this piece alone.

Performances and recording are first rate and the booklet contains full texts and translations.

Bob Briggs

Bold choral writing.