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Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b.1933)
Piano Concerto Resurrection (2001-2, rev. 2007) [37:11]
Flute Concerto (1992) [23:19]
Barry Douglas (piano); Lukasz Dlugosz (flute)
Warsaw Philharmonic/Antoni Wit
rec. 17-18 June 2010, Warsaw Philharmonic Hall (piano concerto), 4-5 October 2010, Lutoslawski Concert Hall of Polish Radio (flute concerto), Warsaw
NAXOS 8.572696 [60:30]

Krzysztof Penderecki’s piano concerto is a very recent work, first finished in 2002 and then revised in 2007. It benefits greatly from his turn to a more romantic, tonal musical language. The concerto opens with a dramatic, dark melodic figure that isn’t dissimilar to Szymanowski or Prokofiev, for instance; this is developed with care by both piano and orchestra. The concerto is dialectic, so to speak: it constantly alternates between this angrier, more imposing material and quieter, subdued passages scored with great imagination - take the second movement’s passage for muted trombones, cor anglais, and piano. This approach brings great drama to the piece and makes its ten movements progress smoothly, framed around appearances of a hymn which is one of the purest, most affectionate and innocent creations of Penderecki’s career.
 
Barry Douglas premiered this revised version. His performance is commanding, bearing out the booklet’s assertion that this is Penderecki’s entry into the grand tradition of Rachmaninov and Prokofiev. The Warsaw Philharmonic and Antoni Wit are as exemplary as you might expect, too, capturing the music’s push and pull well, although they can’t hide my main complaint about the extraordinary score: Penderecki’s somewhat gratuitous use of percussion.
 
For a dessert we’re given a performance of the flute concerto, with Lukasz Dlugosz giving a wildly colorful, fluent reading of the solo part. The chamber-sized orchestra allows us to hear clearly Penderecki’s skill at drawing exotic sounds from his ensemble (first movement, 3:40). There’s even a spotlit moment for contrabassoon.
 
We start with a misleading clarinet solo, which becomes a dialogue, and travel across several aggressive - or as the booklet says, “harsh” - fast movements to a contemplative coda which brings the piece to resolution on the final chord. Ultimately the concerto feels a little pedantic, but the composer’s skill in orchestration makes it interesting, and the performers’ undeniable energy bringing it off make the concerto enjoyable. This dichotomy is best expressed by the brief fourth movement, whose relentless dour drumbeat I found somewhat tiresome even as I admired the fierce playing of the cellos and basses.
 
Recorded sound is good in both venues, the Warsaw Philharmonic’s home concert hall offering a bit more reverberation. The booklet notes are a nice guide, but I’d like to have known what changes took place when the piano concerto was revised. Ultimately these aren’t my top choices for an entryway to Penderecki’s “neo-romantic” output; try the incredible horn concerto, the surprising sinfoniettas, and the sextet. However the piano concerto is probably a masterpiece, and this performance will be very, very hard to beat.
 
Brian Reinhart 

See also review by Leslie Wright