Andrzej PANUFNIK (1910-1991)
Symphonic Works Vol. 1
Tragic Overture (1939-1942) [7:47]
Nocturne for Orchestra (1947) [17:27]
Heroic Overture (1952) [5:37]
Katyn Epitaph (1967) [7:37]
A Procession for Peace (1982-83) [7:44]
Harmony (1989) [15:01]
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Lukasz Borowicz
rec. Polish Radio Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio, Warsaw, January-July 2008. DDD
CPO 777 497-2 [61:16]

Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Symphonic Works Vol. 2
Sinfonia Rustica (Symphony No. 1) (1948) [23:23]
First version of the Con espressione movement of Rustica [5:58]
Sinfonia Concertante for Flute, Harp and Strings (Symphony No. 4) (1973) [19:47]
Polonia - Suite (1959) [20:46]
Lullaby (1947) [7:37]
Anna Sikorzak-Olek (harp); Lukasz Dlugosz (flute),
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Lukasz Borowicz
rec. Polish Radio Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio, Warsaw, May-June 2009. DDD
CPO 777 496-2 [77:55]

Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Symphonic Works Vol. 3
Symphony No. 6 Sinfonia Mistica (1977) [24:52]
Autumn Music (1962) [20:10]
Five pieces for Flute and Strings Hommage a Chopin (1947, 1966) [11:53]
Rhapsody (1956) [16:43]
Lukasz Dlugosz (flute)
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Lukasz Borowicz
rec. Polish Radio Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio, Warsaw, May-July 2009. DDD
CPO 777 498-2 [73:57]

With these three discs CPO have made major inroads into a project to record a complete Panufnik Orchestral Edition. Good to see that CPO are doing for Panufnik what Naxos are doing for Lutoslawski. In a few years time the chances are that we may have the completed set issued in a slipcase just as CPO have done for Sallinen.

What marks out Panufnik as distinctive. His textures are not complex. He had the courage to populate his scores sparsely leaving his material to be judged without distraction. Long lyrical lines arc and arch, twist slowly and stretch and writhe in ecstatic absorption. Minatory bass ostinati drive progress forwards as on occasion do pizzicato cells for the strings. These successfully incite rapping brass and percussion. His writing for brass is a thing of magnificence. Extremes of loud and quiet are juxtaposed as they are for example in the Piano Concerto and the desperately under-recognised Sinfonia Elegiaca (the Second).

The Sinfonia Mistica reflects these characteristics decades after the Sinfonia Sacra. The harmonic language is only marginally more subtle than in the Rustica and Sacra. Some of the slow blooming music verges on being Delian. The Mistica can be heard, with the di Sfere, in a contemporary analogue recording by the LSO and David Atherton on Explore. The present recording is more transparent and is recorded with proximity impact on a more generously timed CD. Autumn Music is in three episodes and at one time could be found on a Unicorn CD UKCD2016 that also included Tragic and Heroic overtures, Nocturne, Autumn Music, London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jascha Horenstein in 1970. It’s a work of chilly opacity and some violence. Drum and piano are to the fore in the later two sections. The five movements of Hommage à Chopin are derived from five vocalises for soprano and piano. This is haunting but very approachable. The music is original and uses Polish folk material to pay tribute to Chopin. Much of it is introspective but it has its energetic moments in the spiny rhythmic penultimate movement. Rhapsody is related to Autumn Music in its oblique language though the surging hymnal fingerprint is rampant in the last section.

The Sinfonia Rustica is an early work and was recorded first by the composer with the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra in 1966 – at first appearing on EMI then Unicorn and more recently on EMI again. It at times recalls a sort of Polish Copland. It is very folksy yet sensitively painted and proportioned. The finale proceeds with huge energy and gripping pulsation. With the Sacra and the two early overtures on volume 1 it forms the ideal introduction to Panufnik. Here we also get the plangent first version of the Con espressione movement of Rustica. The Sinfonia Concertante dates from a quarter century later by which time the composer had long had to leave his native Poland to settle in England – for some years he was conductor of the CBSO. This three movement symphony has a central movement which has extruded echoes of his rhythmically driven central movements. This one is grimly redolent of Shostakovich. It is strange and oddly shaped. Polonia is a rude contrast – we are taken back to ancient Polish folk music and folk dances. Again some of these seem to reference cowboy Copland but with a more raucous dissonant tang. The piece was inspired by Elgar’s Polonia – rife with Polish patriotic songs - which Panufnik conducted during his time with the CBSO. One of Panufnik’s Polonia movements deploys his trademark high-keening violins which can be heard again in the almost expressionist Lullaby spun slowly over an iterated dripping harp figure. It’s magical – again almost Delian but softly dissonant and otherworldly. It ends in a slowly descending harp glitter.

Panufnik made his name as a composer with the Tragic Overture and the Heroic Overture. I recall being captivated by them when they were used as signature tunes for some BBC Radio 4 serial in the early 1970s. In the Tragic Overture an irate little note cell keeps things restless. A lyrical and even sentimental idea often allotted to flute and other solo instruments sings above the terror of that ruthless little cell. Towards the end it is as if the battle between orchestra and side drum in Nielsen’s Fifth is emulated here in notated form between whooping lyrical paean and the thudding and howling mindless violence. Here the violence wins – the multiple betrayals around the Warsaw Uprising? Nocturne - a sort of contemplation of night scenes from which emerges a grim climax which then dissipates and returns to the nocturnal miasma. It’s a long sustained episode running close to 18 minutes. Again this music of night has a shredded dissonant sweetness carried by high violins. Heroic Overture is clamorous but it is a euphorically exciting piece that celebrates heroism in irresistible terms while not diluting the surrounding slaughter. It looks back again to those appalling war years the composer spent in Warsaw from 1941 to 1945. The murder of thousands of Polish officers in the Katyn forest in 1943 is most movingly marked in the tragic Katyn Epitaph. Sorrowing beauty is carried by the searing violins rather than in fanfares. You need to hear this piece if you already appreciate the Barber Adagio, the Martinů Lidice Memorial or the Suk Wenceslas Chorale. A Procession for Peace was written in 1983 to a commission by the GLC. It has no specific programme but is dedicated “to peace-loving people of every political and philosophical creed.” A persistent side-drum establishes a military reference over which a pacific woodwind chorale rises and falls. Strings take over the role of the woodwind yet things end with the lyrical theme rising to grand heights. Momentarily there’s a touch of Rozsa here. But the brass whoops at the end are and can only be Panufnik. Harmony was conducted by the composer at its premiere at the Tilles Center, New York in 1989. It was dedicated to the composer’s wife Camilla. The mood is strange, tender, idyllic, Bergian perhaps – it present s tough aspect and needs repeat hearings.

The notes for all three discs are good and avoid the abstruse in a way that CPO authors do not always manage.

It would be good to have the withdrawn Symphony for Peace (the one from which Elegiaca emerged) included in this Edition. Let’s hope that it is possible if the family is willing and if the materials have survived or can be prepared.

This is an admirable series full of refreshing subtlety: old friends and new discoveries.

Rob Barnett

This is an admirable series full of refreshing subtlety: old friends and new discoveries.