Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b. 1933)
Credo (1998)1 [49:56]
Cantata in honorem Almæ Matris Universitatis Iagellonicæ sescentos abhinc annos fundatæ (1964)2 [6:31]
Iwona Hossa (soprano 1); Aga Mikolaj (soprano 2); Ewa Wolak (alto); Rafal Bartminski (tenor); Remigiusz Lukomski (bass)
Warsaw Boys’ Choir/Krzysztof Kusiel-Moroz
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir/Henryk Wojnarowski
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, 29 September-1 October 20081 and 9 September 20082. DDD.
Texts and translations included.
NAXOS 8.572032 [56:27]

Naxos, with the able assistance of Antoni Wit and his Warsaw and Katowice forces, are doing Penderecki very proud. You’ll find my review of his works for cello and orchestra (8.570509) here, together with a link to all the MusicWeb reviews of his music which had been published to that date (December 2008). Since then Naxos have added a recording by Wit of the Symphony No.8, with Dies iræ and Psalms of David (8.570450).

I can’t better the description from USA Today of the Credo as a ‘colourful and extroverted’ piece, quoted by Naxos on the rear insert of the CD. If you thought of the earlier Penderecki as avant-garde, as indeed he was, and prefer something a little more ‘traditional’, yet with a voice of its own, you should be well pleased with this work. You may find it reminiscent of the likes of Orff’s Carmina Burana or Janácek’s Glagolitic Mass, even Bach at times, without ever losing that individual voice which I’ve mentioned. I’d heard it at least once in a broadcast performance, but I was bowled over all over again by its wonderful combination of passion and contemplation.

If you think that 50 minutes is rather long for the Credo – it would make any celebration of Mass where it was employed very long indeed – Penderecki interpolates biblical and liturgical material at various points. After the Crucifixus section there is a short Polish hymn, the Improperia or Reproaches from the Good Friday liturgy in Latin and Polish, and the first stanza of the hymn Pange lingua. The Et resurrexit section is followed by the opening of the Seventh Seal from Revelation 1115 and Confiteor unum baptisma by the opening of the Eastertide hymn Salve festa dies. Finally, Et vitam venturi sæculi, which rounds off the work in rousing fashion and with the strongest echo of the earlier Penderecki, contains the Easter response from Psalm 117 (118): Hæc dies, This is the day which the Lord hath made.

All concerned give of their best to make this a most effective performance and the recording engineers match their achievement. Some of the soloists on earlier Naxos recordings of Penederecki have manifested something of a Slavonic ‘wobble’. I’m pleased to say that it’s much less in evidence here: I hadn’t heard any of them before, but they all negotiate the difficulties of their parts. Choir and orchestra also have considerable demands placed on them; they, too, acquit themselves well. If the textures are a little opaque at times, that’s due more to the large sound which Penderecki’s music produces than to the sound engineers.

There are rival recordings of this work: that on CD Accord which MWI Classical Editor Rob Barnett reviewed here (ACD066) offers rather short value, since it comes without filler and Kazimierz Kord dispatches the Credo in just 48 minutes. I listened to that version in ‘near CD’ quality, courtesy of the Naxos Music Library and found little to choose between Kord and Wit – both present an impassioned performance of an impassioned work – except that the Naxos is much less expensive and contains a short filler.

The Naxos Music Library also offers a performance on Hänssler Classic, again without coupling, on which Helmuth Rilling conducts the Oregon Bach Choir and Orchestra, a live performance from 1998, when the Credo was hot off the press by just a few days (98.311). No doubt that was a memorable occasion and this recording is a useful memento of it, but it lacks the punch of the two Polish recordings.

The Cantata in honour of the Jagiellonian University, near Kraków, is an earlier and much tougher proposition than Credo and I responded to it less enthusiastically. I wonder what the university authorities made of it. It seems to be Naxos policy to mix earlier and later works, as on 8.557980 where the earlier Te Deum and more recent Hymn to Daniel are coupled. I wish that I could be more appreciative of the earlier works, but I find myself in the same position as Dan Morgan, who regarded the Te Deum as a somewhat bleak affair, engaging the ear but rarely the heart, by comparison with the Hymn to Daniel. (See review).

Richard Whitehouse’s notes are excellent. The texts of the Credo and the much shorter Cantata are included in the booklet. The English translation is independent of both the traditional Book of Common Prayer translation and its modern Roman Catholic and Anglican equivalent – not always to its benefit, but it will certainly pass muster for those unacquainted with the text. I’m pleased to see Naxos apparently returning to including texts and translations here and in other recent releases.

The misprint Qui propter nod homines, the heading for the translation of track 2, provides an interesting diversion. Presumably the nod homines were asleep at the time of the nativity. Fortunately, the choir sing the correct nos homines.

Like several other recent Naxos releases, my review copy reached me with the most of the segments of the central rose which holds the CD shattered. I hope that is not becoming a regular feature of their cases.

I’ve just resisted making another Naxos recording Bargain of the Month – Missa solemnis attributed to Mozart and Mayr Te Deum (8.570926) – but this must join their recording of Haydn’s ‘Nelson’ Mass and Nikolaimesse (8.572123) among the holders of that honour.

Brian Wilson

Music which matches power and contemplation with performances to match.