Every now and again, we MWI reviewers are sent a list of CDs which have been made available for review, and no doubt each of us has our own individual priorities when choosing discs about which we feel we can contribute useful comment. Seeing the name Przybylski on the list, I assumed this would be Bronislaw Przybylski, a name I remember encountering during my avid contemporary music consumption in the 1980s. Having entirely failed to check any further, I was at first a little mystified by the youthful visage looking out from the cover of this release. “This can’t be right” I thought, and indeed, my expectations were not unpleasantly dislodged on discovering an entirely new Przybylski.
Dariusz Przybylski is by all accounts a remarkably talented composer, and the Polish music world has already gone a long way in recognising their young asset. He is renowned organist, and has won numerous awards and his work already widely performed both in Poland and abroad, though this is one of a number of Dux releases working with the ‘Young Composers in homage to Frederic Chopin’ series, a four year programme of support and sponsorship promoting and recording the works of 13 young Polish composers.
Readers who are familiar with the Polish contemporary traditions of Lutoslawski, Penderecki and the like will be comforted to know that this line is being extended and developed in Dariusz Przybylski. Orchestral colour and texture are all factors which are significant in his work, though his craft has little to do with the blocks of pure aleatoric sonority which were a feature of the 1960s Polish avant-garde. A sense of the dramatic is here however, quite often dealing with dark emotions. What you will not find here is a great deal of lyricism. There are no ‘big tunes’ and nor need there be, but there is a fine line between actual expressive content and what some listeners are likely to find an experience filled with activity and inventiveness but hard put to find out what the composer seems to want to communicate. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing. We want our artists to put our minds to work, to raise our awareness above the mundane, and to join in with the intellectual leaps the creative mind has made to transcend the ordinary and explore and aspire to higher planes.
The Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra is a virtuoso piece, but not in an overtly conventional way. The solo part is filled with sometimes rather fragmentary figuration, wide leaps and dynamic extremes. The rhythmic impulse can be infectious, driving forward as the material moves through energetic transformations. This is impressive music, but enigmatic at the same time. The concerto was preceded by Even stars cry with those who cry at night, a phrase taken from the Talmud, and indicating darker moods even than those of the Violin Concerto, which is more of an expression of some kind of agony than of sadness. Even stars cry... has some remarkably passionate and emotionally charged outbursts, the intensity of which is set against dynamic extremes of quiet restlessness. This is largely in a very gloomy minor mood, but does have a central section which reminded me at times of some of the ‘chase’ music for Don Ellis’ score for The French Connection. Even stars cry... is indeed a very visual score - the knife going in at 8:17 - ouch.
The second half of the programme starts with Hommage à Josquin for flute solo against a string orchestra, percussion and electronics. The electronic sounds have a vocal character, voices sung through some kind of filter or modulator which gives them an unearthly timbre. These make use of some of the texts by Josquin which are referred to elsewhere in the score: Nymphes des bois and Adieu, mes amours. As with the Violin Concerto, the solo part is virtuoso, and played superbly here by the work’s dedicatee Jadwiga Kotnowska. Again however, there is an angular and fragmentary quality to the part which can be discomforting. The first section is characterised by rhythmic forward momentum, with inventive use of percussion. The ‘closest-to-Josquin moment’ comes just after 9 minutes in, when the strings take over a gently rolling version of his Adieu harmonies. I’m not entirely convinced by all of the effects later on in the work, but there are plenty of highly charged and atmospheric moments which carry the listener along.
The shortest work for the largest ensemble on the disc, Orchesterstück Nr. 2 for Symphony Orchestra is one of a pair of orchestral pieces which have a ‘concerto for orchestra’ feel, with plenty of juicy material for each section. It’s hard to escape some gestures and harmonic angles which might be recognisable from other composers, but if you are anything like me you will probably end up racking your brains to bring forth these influences, such is the elusive and expertly honed nature of Przybylski’s assimilation of older generations. Elements from Penderecki and Lutoslawski are pretty unmistakable, and is that a touch of Malcolm Arnold’s Symphony No.6 in the pungent strings and creeping, irregular percussion towards the beginning? Orchesterstück Nr. 2 is stunning in its powerful orchestration and abundant energy, though not much more than this impressive impression is left after the orchestra has been given its workout.
Dariusz Przybylski has a marvellous future as a composer and musician, and if this first impression is anything to go by he will go from strength to strength. This disc is full of wonderful things, but the balance of feverish invention and technical excellence against that of musical experiences which permanently change one’s life in a ‘before and after’ moment still weigh in favour of the former. No matter, I can imagine him getting there; and probably sooner rather than later. The musicians recorded here play their socks off, and these white-hot performances are recorded with the utmost clarity and impact. Polish music took over great swathes of Europe’s avant-garde in the 1960s and 1970s, so perhaps we’re about to see another artistic revolution.
Another artistic revolution about to hit Europe?