Krzystof PENDERECKI (b. 1933)
Three pieces in old style (1963) [6:04]
Capriccio for oboe and string orchestra (1964) [6:11]
Intermezzo for 24 strings (1973) [6:53]
Sinfonietta No. 1 (1992) [14:02]
Sinfonietta No. 2 (1994) [15:02]
Serenade (1997) [9:56]
Jean-Louis Capezzali (oboe); Artur Pachlewski (clarinet: sinfonietta 2); Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, 6-9 and 22-24 September 2008 and 3 December 2008
NAXOS 8.572212 [58:10]
When Penderecki renounced the avant garde and all its works in the mid-1970s and threw himself like a penitent into the arms of romanticism, the cries of betrayed acolytes echoed around the musical world. Since then the composer has been the subject of much vituperation and execration from his former admirers. The appearance of each new work from him has been greeted with opprobrium from certain zealots with whom the behaviour of the apostate still clearly rankles.
As yet, to judge by the earliest work on this CD, they should not have been altogether surprised. Written for the soundtrack of the film The manuscript found at Saragossa (not a title that screams ‘box office’), the Three pieces in old style are pure mock-Mozart, not even seen through the twentieth century lens of neo-classicism but through a sensibility that seems purely late-romantic. They are attractive pastiches, but come as a shock from the composer who not long before had completed the Threnody for the victims of Hiroshima.
These pieces open this disc devoted to Penderecki’s music for string orchestra - with occasional wind soloists. The other work here from the 1960s is the Capriccio for oboe and strings, which Richard Whitehouse’s informative booklet note refers to as evidence of the composer’s “lighter side” even in his avant garde days. Well, it all depends how you define the “lighter side”. It is certainly very jaunty, not one thinks intended to be taken terribly seriously, but it exploits to the full the whole lexicon of oboe technique and range in a dazzling kaleidoscope of ideas and bravura passages. Thankfully it never enters the realm of overblown chords, key clicks and other more or less unmusical devices so beloved of more recent ‘experimental’ composers. It was written for Heinz Holliger. At the time he was probably one of the very few oboists in the world who could have played it. Nowadays players are made of sterner stuff, and the admirable Jean-Louis Capezzali shows no apparent difficulty in coping with everything the composer throws at him.
The Intermezzo from eight years later comes from the years immediately before Penderecki abandoned his earlier style, and in it frankly the cracks are already beginning to show. We are presented with a gallery of all the usual avant garde string devices: divided strings microtones apart from each other, every sort of glissando and harmonic technique in the book, fast running pizzicato passages falling over each other – and all totally bereft of meaning. Penderecki had been doing this sort of thing for far too long to find anything new to say; and it is much to his credit that, unlike those of his colleagues who either proceeded to tread the same ground over and over again, or else took off into realms ever more abstruse and unfathomable, he decided to break entirely new ground and seek a reconciliation with the evolutionary trends of earlier music.
The two Sinfoniettas are both transcriptions of other works: the first derives from the String Trio of 1991 and the second from the Clarinet Quintet of 1993. Neither seems to add very much to their original chamber scoring, and to be honest it is difficult to summon up much enthusiasm for either of them. The original small scale of the music extends to these larger versions too, and despite excellent clarinet playing in the Second Sinfonietta from Artur Pachlewski, Penderecki’s inspiration remains obstinately earthbound throughout. It is pieces like this which lead one to recognise a degree of truth in the accusations of the composer’s detractors that he has never been able to recapture the imagination that he displayed in his earlier work, were it not for the existence of pieces like the Serenade to prove the contrary. For the Serenade, a work of pure neo-romanticism, is also very beautiful. The opening Passacaglia leads to a heartfelt Larghetto with soulful textures leading in turn to an impassioned climax.
The orchestral playing under Wit is every bit as good as one would expect from his superb continuing survey of the music of Penderecki, which has brought to our notice so many works that are otherwise unrecorded and unperformed.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Every bit as good as one would expect from his superb continuing survey.