Krzystof PENDERECKI (b. 1933)
Fonogrammi (1961) [6.55]
The awakening of Jacob (1974) [9.29]
Anaklasis (1960) [6.39]
De natura sonoris I (1966) [8.51]
Partita (1971, revised 1991) [18.44]
Horn Concerto Winterreise (2008) [18.15]
Urszula Janik (flute: Fonogrammi); Elżbieta Stefánska (harpsichord: partita); Jennifer Montone (horn)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, August-September 2008, 7 September 2009 (partita) and 14-15 June 2010 (concerto)
NAXOS 8.572482 [68.52]

This latest instalment of Antoni Wit’s survey of the music of Penderecki for Naxos - see below - concentrates on the music of the composer’s earlier avant-garde period. Indeed all the tracks on this disc have been recorded by Penderecki himself: the earlier pieces in the 1960s and 1970s reissued several times on CD by EMI, and the Horn Concerto in 2010 by Channel Classics. It must be said that the performances of the earlier pieces here are better recorded and generally better played than in the composer’s own recordings made when the techniques demanded by the music were clearly more unfamiliar to his Polish players. Only in his recording of Anaklasis - originally issued as a coupling for the First Symphony - were the LSO instrumentalists likely to be readily accustomed to the demands of modern music.
The earliest works here - Fonogrammi, Anaklasis and De natura sonoris I - are all very much pieces of their time. Once upon a time they seemed like the cutting edge of experimentalism, but now they have a slightly dated feel to them. This is largely because most of the techniques exploited have now become part of the common currency of orchestral writing. The persistent string glissandi, the rhythmic irruptions, the clusters of harmonies and so on, are nevertheless given full measure by the players here. They seem positively to revel in their opportunities. These performances suffer nothing by comparison with the composer’s own, and they are much better played and recorded.
The slightly later Partita is described on the back of the CD as “rev. 1991” but there is no indication as to the nature of these revisions. There seem to be no obvious differences from the ‘original’ version as recorded by Penderecki himself, apart from those which one would naturally expect from players who are more experienced in this kind of music, and the more immediate recorded sound. The smaller solo roles for electric guitar, bass guitar, harp and double bass are taken by Michał Pindakiewicz, Konrad Kubicki, Barbara Witowska and Jerzy Cembryński respectively. In Penderecki’s recording these roles were not thought significant enough to credit the players individually but the players here justify their billing.
The piece here described as The awakening of Jacob does not appear to exist in the listings of Penderecki’s works. The piece is more normally known as The dream of Jacob - under which title it was twice recorded by the composer. The otherwise informative notes by Richard Whitehouse do not explain the change in title, but suggest that the work anticipated the move to neo-romanticism which he was about to adopt. I must say that this impression of a move towards a more ‘traditional’ style did not strike me when I heard Penderecki’s original recording, and does not strike me differently now. It remains very much a work of Penderecki’s earlier avant-garde period.
The Horn Concerto is quite another matter. When it was written over thirty years later Penderecki’s distancing from experimentalism was total and complete. The subtitle Winterreise has no reference to Schubert’s song-cycle. Richard Whitehouse’s note does not explain it, but it appears to have been inspired by memories of walks in the Polish winter countryside. The piece sits rather uneasily with the other works on this disc. This appears to be its second recording within two years of its first performance. The earlier recording features Radovan Vlatkovic, who gave the world première. Jennifer Montone has nothing to fear by comparison with her more illustrious predecessor. The opening of the work comes as quite a shock, and something of a relief, after the persistently experimental writing of the other pieces. After a while there is a suggestion of a return to some of Penderecki’s earlier styles, but these are now absorbed and subsumed in the whole together with some very romantic gestures. There are hints even of Grieg (Peer Gynt’s homecoming) at 7.38 and Richard Strauss (Die Frau ohne Schatten) from 7.52. It is a rather likeable piece, with even some Shostakovich-like humorous galumphing about at 10.57. The orchestral support is splendid, including superbly delicate pianissimo piccolo touches at 13.54 and 16.51. One suspects that there may be a programme behind the music but we are not given information on this.
It is good that Wit’s comprehensive survey of Penderecki’s output is extending to works that have already been recorded by the composer himself and they need fear nothing from their competition. This is not music that allows for a great deal of variety in interpretation, but the recorded sound for Naxos is much superior and more analytical than EMI’s in their 1960s and 1970s recordings, good though that was for its time. The increased clarity benefits the music.  

Paul Corfield Godfrey 

Reviews of other Penderecki recordings on Naxos

8.557386/7 Polish requiem
8.557766 Symphony 7
8.557980 Te Deum
8.570509 Works for cello and orchestra
8.572032 Credo
8.572211 Concertos for cello and viola
8.572212 Sinfoniettas

It is good that Wit is extending to works that have already been recorded by the composer. He need fear nothing from the competition.