Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b.1933)
Symphony No. 4 - Adagio (1989) [30:48]
Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra/Krzysztof Penderecki
rec. 17 September, 2010, I.J. Paderewski Pomeranian Philharmonic Concert Hall, Bydgoszcz, Poland. DDD
DUX DUX 0822 [30:48]

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.

Mark Sealey

A convincing and broad yet focused account of Penderecki's descriptive and emotionally rich fourth symphony appears to compete successfully with that from the Naxos cycle.