Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b.1933)
Piano Concerto 'Resurrection' (2001-02/2007) [37:50]
Florian Uhlig (piano)
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Łukasz Borowicz
rec. Witold Lutosławski Concert Hall, Polish Radio, Warsaw, 25-27 January 2013.
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 98.018 [37:50]
Krzysztof Penderecki turns eighty in November 2013, and what better way to celebrate his birthday than with an anniversary-year recording of one of his most exciting works, the 'Resurrection' Piano Concerto? Then again, the thirty-eight-minute running time of this new CD from Hänssler Classic is hardly going to endear it to collectors, even at a reduced 'single' price - this available from some online retailers, but not from Hänssler's own website. For less money, punters could help themselves to a full-length Naxos disc - how about Barry Douglas's sparkling account of Penderecki's 'Resurrection' Concerto (review), released three months before Hänssler's.
On the positive side, Hänssler have assembled a fine team for this recording. German pianist Florian Uhlig has performed this work several times with various conductors, including Penderecki himself. Meanwhile, the thoroughly dependable Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Łukasz Borowicz have been keeping busy with critic-impressing projects. Earlier this year they co-starred with Emilian Madey in a recording for Chandos of Ignacy Dobrzyński's Piano Concerto and Second Symphony (review), and only a few months before had popped up on CD Accord with some piano concertos by 'Chopin's Pupils', soloist Hubert Rutkowski (review).
Then again, those two discs were let down somewhat by audio quality that had a slight 'lossy' feel. They were both recorded at the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra's home venue, the Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio in Warsaw. That is where the players are to be found on this Hänssler disc too, but steps have clearly been taken, and the sound here is happily well defined, spacious and natural, only coming under stress in brief extreme-forte passages.
Penderecki's Concerto is dedicated to the memory of those who died in the '9/11' terrorist assault on New York's World Trade Center, one of a series of works through which he composer has, throughout his career, commented on political events, often those of a brutal nature. As such, this was never going to be a bubbly, sunny work, yet despite its subject matter and earthy, dark-toned character, the Concerto remains surprisingly accessible. It is certainly bolshevistic and atonal in places, but also melodic, rhythmic and structured in ways that place it in a line easily traceable - via Prokofiev, Liszt and Beethoven - all the way back to Mozart. The gentle lullaby towards the ends of the first and final movements will certainly surprise.
It seems reasonable to assume that Penderecki's 'Resurrection' title alludes to Mahler. Whilst it would be misleading to say that the Concerto in any way sounds like Mahler, there are certain orchestrational choices Penderecki has made, deliberately without doubt, that do recall him - fanfares, percussive irruptions, episodic tempo changes. Like Mahler in his time, Penderecki is one of the greatest living composers, and like Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, Penderecki's Resurrection Concerto deserves an unequivocal place in the repertoire and concert hall.
Those who can overlook Hänssler's abysmal running time need not hesitate to add this recording to their Penderecki or piano concerto collection, even if already in possession of the Naxos disc. Uhlig's performance has all the virtuosic, staminal and expressive necessaries and more besides, and his substantial orchestral support is equally, unflaggingly impressive.
For much more Penderecki, the best place to turn is Naxos again - the service rendered to posterity by their 20-plus discography of the composer is immeasurable. An excellent place to start would be with the Viola Concerto and Second Cello Concerto, one of the finest releases of 2012 (review). The more adventurous on a tight budget can avail themselves of a Naxos 5-CD boxed set of Penderecki's seven symphonies and some choral works at a bargain price (8.505231) - many works performed, incidentally, by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted this time by Antoni Wit. Elsewhere, and rather pricier, the Polish DUX label has its own ongoing 'Penderecki Special Edition', featuring orchestral, chamber and choral music - see this review for further details.
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Those who can overlook Hänssler's abysmal running time need not hesitate to add this recording to their Penderecki or piano concerto collection, even if already in possession of the Naxos disc.

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