Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b. 1933)
Hymne an den heiligen Adalbert (1997) [5:48]
Song of Cherubim (1986) [6:34]
Canticum canticorum Salomonis (1973) [19:04]
Kosmogonia (1970) [18:26]
Strophen (1959) [7:26]
Olga Pasichnyk (soprano) (Kosmogonia, Strophen); Rafał Bartmiński (tenor) (Kosmogonia); Tomasz Konieczny (bass) (Kosmogonia); Jerzy Artysz (narrator) (Strophen)
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, Poland, 10 September 2010 (Hymne), 28 November 2008 (Cherubim), 8-9 September 2009 (Canticum), 17, 19 November 2009 (Kosmogonia), 8 February 2010 (Strophen)
The sung texts will be accessible at
NAXOS 8.572481 [57:18]
Naxos continue their impressive survey of the music of leading Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki (see below). Naxos has just released a boxed set of Wit’s readings of the eight Penderecki symphonies (8.505231). The present disc presents five vocal works with orchestra spanning a near forty year period.
Penderecki has gone through several stylistic phases with an early avant-garde period that included works of an experimental nature. However, in recent times his style has mollified to a more traditional quality. Penderecki is one of a number of contemporary composers who can successfully create a compelling amalgam between serial techniques and conventional Romantic music. The massive St. Luke Passion for soloists with narrator, four choirs and large orchestra from 1963/65 is regarded as a seminal work of its age and together with the Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima for string orchestra from 1960 are his best known compositions.
The earliest work on the disc Strophen (Strophes) scored for soprano, speaker and ten instruments from 1959 assisted in forming Penderecki’s international reputation. The settings are in Greek, Hebrew and Persian using original texts from Menander, Sophocles, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Omar Khayyam. Compared to the other works on this release I was stuck by the relatively spare orchestration yet the impressive writing certainly makes a significant impact. Dominating the writing is the striking soprano of Olga Pasichnyk and the narrator Jerzy Artysz who displays a voice of bell-like quality. I only wish I knew what they were singing about.
Throughout I was struck by the distinctive percussion and woodwind sounds with the strings playing harmonics and the percussive orchestral piano has a highly prominent part. Composed in 1970 to mark the 25th anniversary of the United Nations the Kosmogonia for soprano, tenor, bass, mixed chorus and orchestra uses texts from English, Italian and Latin sources. A complex tapestry of sound is achieved through a variety of unusual techniques. This substantial score is dominated by a series of shattering choral and orchestral climaxes. The choir becomes more audible at 4:24 alongside compelling contributions three soloists Olga Pasichnyk (soprano); Rafał Bartmiński (tenor) and Tomasz Konieczny (bass). Gradually the music builds to another climax at 16:57 - a real highpoint in the writing.
Introduced in 1973 the powerful Canticum canticorum Salomonis uses texts from the
Song of Songs. At over nineteen minutes to perform, here this is the longest score on the release. It commences with unaccompanied voices that take on an ethereal quality. From 2:32 the singers of the chorus begin to pull in different directions making independent wailing and chanting sounds. Gradually various instruments are introduced that also seem to be playing independently. Unusual instrumental sounds suffuse the writing especially from the percussion section. It’s a veritable kaleidoscope of unusual choral and instrumental effects ranging from calm whispers to frenzied drama. Towards the conclusion the music gently ebbs away like a retreating tide. To appreciate this often disconcerting music will in all probability require from the general listener an open mind and a reasonable degree of concentration; undoubtedly this is made additionally difficult without texts.
The Song of Cherubim was composed in 1986 - a setting from the Orthodox liturgy hymn text. Each of the four voice-types comes in in turn. For a time at 2:32 a chant-like style is employed. Gradually the volume and weight of the SATB chorus increases to a tremendously dramatic climax that conveys a slightly unsettling feeling.
The Hymne an den heiligen Adalbert for chorus and orchestra was written in recognition of the martyred Saint Adalbert Bishop of Prague in the eighth century. Brass chords figure throughout, however, the strength of the chorus dominates the proceedings in a highly dramatic manner right up to the final notes.
It states on the rear cover of the CD that sung texts can be accessed on the Naxos website but I was not able to retrieve them. My Naxos contact has stated that they hope that the texts will be accessible soon but without translations. As it currently stands this is a release of vocal music inadequately presented without texts and translations. This is a terrible shame as one can only guess at the time, care and energy that Penderecki, Wit, his forces and the Naxos team applied to these settings. To hear the sound of the words but not to have the faintest idea what was being sung is ridiculous. This perplexing practice only serves to lessen the listener’s interest and limit the number of potential purchasers. Yet many record labels repeatedly do this. In addition I wanted the essay to provide more information, for example, nowhere release does it specifically state the particular scoring for each of the four works.
Recorded in 2008/10 at the Warsaw Philharmonic Hall the closely recorded sound is satisfyingly clear apart from some slight blurring in the more extreme forte passages. The Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra under Antoni Wit play with wonderful skill and high commitment and the soloists perform their roles with a consummate vocal expression.
This release is impressively performed and well recorded but is seriously let down by flawed documentation.
Michael Cookson 
Impressively performed and well recorded. 

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
8.572482 Fonogrammi, horn concerto