Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b.1933)
String Trio (1991) [13:41]
String Quartet no.1 (1960) [6:02]
String Quartet no.2 (1968) [7:36]
Der Unterbrochene Gedanke, for string quartet (1988) [2:48]
Quartet, for clarinet and string trio (1993) [14:14]
String Quartet no.3 'Blätter eines nicht geschriebenen Tagebuches' (2008) [18:00]
Arkadiusz Adamski (clarinet)
DAFÔ Quartet
rec. Kraków Music Academy, February 2010. DDD
DUX 0770 [62:20] 

This is the latest volume in Polish label DUX's 'Penderecki Special Edition' which has produced an average of a disc a year since 2003, nine in total to date. Three recent volumes are reviewed here, here, and here, with critical opinion ranging from lukewarm to very positive.
The six works in the DAFÔ Quartet's programme span almost fifty years of Penderecki's career, and as such there is a bit of the Polish master to suit all tastes, from the avant-garde astringency of his first two Quartets - from the same period as his renowned Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima and the St Luke Passion - to the more recognisably traditional-sounding works from the 1980s onwards, after he was, in his own words, "saved from the avant-garde snare of formalism by a return to tradition."
Those not enamoured of hardcore European modernism of the 1960s will be thankful that Penderecki kept his first two Quartets so short, but for the aurally courageous these imaginative, energetic works can be very rewarding, both full of interesting, innovative techniques and effects, virtuosic twists and turns and more besides.
Jump forward twenty years to Der Unterbrochene Gedanke ('The Interrupted Thought') and the difference in idiom is huge - this sounds much more like an excerpt from a Shostakovich quartet. That is certainly the case also with the brilliant Third Quartet, which includes a gypsy tune that, at the same time, sounds like, but perhaps is not, a distorted quotation of material from Shostakovich's Cello Concerto no.1. This work is utterly tonal and lyrical, as is the rightly much-recorded Clarinet Quartet, a shortish but lovely work which Penderecki describes as a "dinner for four, an intimate meeting of friends, each of whom has something to say, but they know each other so well that none of them has to finish".
The thrilling two-movement String Trio is more of a mixture of Penderecki's neo-Romanticism and his early modernism, albeit significantly toned-down, employing a language that both Shostakovich and Bartók would have recognised.
This is DAFÔ's third solo CD, all on DUX, and all devoted to Polish string quartets, including their first recording of Penderecki's Second Quartet, played considerably faster there (DUX 0374), at 5'53, than here. Neither the booklet nor the ensemble's website explain where the name 'DAFÔ' comes from, why the final un-Polish circumflexed 'ô' or the capitalisation, nor whether the four instrumentalists are founder members. The quartet will soon be celebrating its twentieth anniversary in any case, and their ensemble playing betokens a mutual understanding of significance. Their deep admiration of Penderecki's music - wholly justified - is sincere and permeates their playing, which is expressive and adept. Experienced Polish clarinettist Arkadiusz Adamski likewise turns in a fine performance in the Clarinet Quartet.
Congratulations also to Małgorzata Polańska, engineer in charge of the recording for DUX - sound is outstanding in pretty much every regard - chamber music recorded and presented as it should be. Finally, the booklet is of good quality, both physically and in terms of informativeness. The notes are in Polish and English, the latter well translated from the former, although the language register used tends unnecessarily towards the highbrow.
Collected reviews and contact at
A bit of the Polish master to suit all tastes, from avant-garde astringency to the more recognisably traditional works from the 1980s.