Krzysztof 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, rev.1991) [18:44]
Horn Concerto Winterreise (2008, rev. 2009) [18:15]
Urszula Janik (flute: Fonogrammi); Jennifer Montone (horn: Concerto); Elżbieta
Stefańska (harpsichord: Partita); Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, Poland, 28 August 2008 (Awakening), 29 August 2008 (Anaklasis), 8 September 2008 (De natura), 10 September 2008 (Fonogrammi), 7 September 2009 (Partita), and 14-15 June 2010 (Concerto). DDD
NAXOS 8.572482 [68:52]
Antoni Wit and the musicians of the Warsaw Philharmonic continue to do yeoman service to Penderecki with this volume spanning the composer’s career with the greater emphasis placed on his earlier works. The change in his style from the 1960s to his current mode is rather startling. Yet, as early as 1962 when he composed his Stabat Mater - which he incorporated in his masterful St. Luke’s Passion - he already showed signs of a simpler, more accessible kind of music. The Passion to my thinking remains his most important work, as it incorporates its diverse stylistic elements very convincingly. If only he had developed in that direction, because I feel something has been lost in his later, neo-Romantic, compositions. The Horn Concerto belongs in this latter category and resembles in tone his Second Violin Concerto, composed for Anne-Sophie Mutter in 1992-95. I must add, though, that these are both rather attractive concertos even if something of the composer’s sheer originality is missing. They are easy on the ear and interesting enough to keep the listener engaged throughout and challenging for the respective soloists. If you are new to Penderecki’s music, the Horn Concerto is as good a place to start as any. Jennifer Montone’s performance is excellent. I have not heard the first recording by Radovan Vlatkovic, presumably for whom the concerto was written, with the composer conducting, but I doubt that it would be appreciably better than Montone’s here. I refer the reader to Paul Corfield Godfrey’s review on this website since he has heard Penderecki’s own recordings of the various works on the CD, while I have not. In any case, both as to performance and recording, the works presented here sound wonderful.
The rest of the disc for the most part belongs to Penderecki’s earlier period where he first established his reputation. It is clear that these compositions are products of their time, but also clear to me that they contain much more than the shock value they had when first heard back then. I remember very well hearing the Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, the piece for which Penderecki was best known, and it completely blew me away. I still find it and the earlier works on this CD pretty amazing. Fonogrammi, with which the CD opens, features both percussion and solo flute, the latter including flutter-tonguing. The Awakening of Jacob, on the other hand, begins with the lower brass with percussive rumblings underneath and sounds for all the world like something out of a science fiction or horror film until it develops into something more profound. It leaves a lasting impression with the richness of its sonorities. As Richard Whitehouse notes in the accompanying foldout, this work anticipates in part the composer’s neo-Romantic approach that he would develop in his later works.
Of all the pieces on this disc, though, De natura sonoris I is likely to be the one I will return to most often. It really epitomizes what Penderecki was attempting to achieve in the Sixties with its shrieking high strings, volleys of percussion, and siren-like glissandos. It even includes a section that contains elements of jazz. All of this in fewer than nine minutes! More ambitious is the Partita, scored for harpsichord, electric guitar, bass guitar, harp, double bass, and orchestra. It is the longest work on the disc and one that I haven’t quite come to terms with. It contains much that is interesting, including the sonority of the electric guitars and some string pizzicati that closely resemble what Ligeti was doing a couple of years earlier in his String Quartet No. 2 (1968) and Chamber Concerto (1969-70). I’m not sure how well it holds together, but I will certainly give it another try. The earliest piece on the disc is Anaklasis that Penderecki composed in 1960, the same year as the Threnody. Whitehouse states it caused a sensation that year at the Donaueschingen Festival where it was premiered. In addition to the strings, as used in the Threnody, this work features percussion and they do have a field day when they take over from the strings. While undoubtedly well written, though, Anaklasis does not leave the same powerful impression as the Threnody.
Having listened to all these works several times through, I am left with one basic thought: I find something new in all the earlier pieces every time I hear them, while the Horn Concerto basically told me everything the first time round. That said, it is a fine addition to the rather limited horn concerto repertoire and deserves continued exposure. The other works, however, demand attention and should be included more frequently on concert programs. I urge you to hear them especially as well played and recorded as they are here. Antoni Wit continues to astonish with the breadth of his repertoire and here he is on home turf.
Wit continues his Penderecki cycle with groundbreaking works and the more recent Horn Concerto.
see also review by Paul Godfrey