Krzysztof Penderecki's fourth symphony was written in 1989 and
bears the subtitle, 'Adagio'; indeed its five movements are
slow. More to the point, though, the feel of this short symphony,
the impression with which you're left when it's over, is slow,
though far from languorous. It's actually agitated in parts
- the start of the third movement [tr.3], for example. There
is tension, threat, sadness and worry throughout. There is also
a sense of ease, of not needing or wanting to rush. This is
the way in which an Italian parent will encourage her/his child
to behave… 'va piano; adagio'. There's no race!
As the - in places poorly translated - notes also explain, 'adagio'
implies care, attention, not overlooking - and hence getting
more from the object of that attention. Accordingly, this fourth
of Penderecki's so far eight symphonies seems merely to offer
itself; it fails to thrust its ideas, its themes and somewhat
imaginative orchestration on us. The word 'adagio' also means
'at ease' - observing, or listening to the music from a position
of - comfort. That is not to say either complacency or coziness.
Rather, the music and the playing here throughout is conscious
of the fact that such an attitude in relation to other tempi
and other ways of living life has its place. Slow living can
be virtuous living. There is nothing that hints at rebellion
against those forces in our life that compel or coerce. The
ease, if it comes, is inherent in what's already present and
known, the music seems to suggest. Like the playing of the Polish
Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra, it's natural and organic.
The orchestra was established only in 2007; yet it is as fluent,
competent and persuasive as though it had been working - in
this music at least - for much longer. It almost certainly helps
that Penderecki himself conducts here and is able to help the
players fully feel his sense of space which the work occupies.
Their playing is strong, very strong. Full of contrasts, of
vigour yet sensitivity and at times a subdued passion … certainly
a set of structural certainties which mean that the work comes
across to us as solid, barely translucent - and exciting, for
all its appeal to the subdued and almost downbeat. It ends very
quietly, for example. That's a narrow path to tread. Yet one
trodden expertly here.
At just half an hour - there is no filler or second work - this
is an unusually short CD. The only other performance currently
available, perhaps surprisingly, is by the Katowice Polish Radio/TV
Symphony Orchestra under Antoni Wit on Naxos 8.554492 as part
of their cycle. It's paired with the Second Christmas
from ten years earlier. In this performance on Dux, Penderecki's
fourth is neither a minor nor a curio piece. It's as substantial
as it's concentrated. With a clean acoustic - this was a live
performance - it's well worth a listen.