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Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Symphonic Works: Volume 7 Sinfonia di Sfere (Symphony of the Spheres) - Symphony No. 5 (1974/75) [32:43] Bassoon Concerto for small orchestra (1985) [20:39] Love Song for mezzo-soprano and string orchestra (1976, arr. 1991) [4:24] Landscape for string orchestra (1962, rev. 1965) [8:50]
Michael von Schönermark (bassoon); Sarah van der Kemp (mezzo)
Konzerthausorchester Berlin/Łukasz Borowicz; Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Łukasz Borowicz (Landscape)
rec. 26-28 October, 21 December 2010, Konzerthaus, Berlin, Germany; 26 June 2009, Lutosławski Concert Studio, Polish Radio, Warsaw, Poland (Landscape) CPO 777 686-2 [67:13]
Following this outstanding Andrzej Panufnik series of Symphonic Works on CPO has provided real rewards. Gratifyingly in 2014, the centenary year of Panufnik, I can report that this seventh volume has maintained the elevated quality achieved in the earlier volumes - see below.
Of all the composers active in the late-twentieth century, for my money, Panufnik was one of the finest and certainly one of the most enduringly fascinating. From him flowed a stream of original and wonderfully absorbing and accessible music that both stimulates the head and delights the heart.
In the last couple of years I have had the good fortune to attend concerts by the marvellous Konzerthausorchester at the beautiful Konzerthaus with its striking interior design and splendid acoustics. Three of the four scores here recorded there. For Landscape Borowicz took his baton to Warsaw to partner the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra at the studios of Polish Radio.
The opening work is the Sinfonia di Sfere (Symphony of the Spheres) - Symphony No.5 written in 1974-75. It was premiered in 1976 by the London Symphony Orchestra under David Atherton at the Royal Festival Hall, London. Panufnik described it as “an abstract work, a musical structure influenced by the beauty and mystery of geometry.” He stressed that the work had nothing to do with “the philosophy of Pythagoras nor with astrology”. It was the theory of spheres that gave him a double stimulus “first the most essential, spheres of contemplative thoughts and emotions; and the secondary aspect, a group of spheres as a geometric figure which acts as a framework enclosing meticulously organised musical material.” Yes, it all sounds rather off-puttingly technical and theoretical but don’t be alarmed this is music that can certainly be enjoyed without bothering too much about compositional structures. Indexed here in nine sections the symphony establishes a generally austere landscape. This is relieved by divergent energetic and hammeringly percussive rhythms often brassy with suggestions of a jazzy flavour. There are some magical episodes and these have real and memorable appeal.
Over his long career Panufnik wrote a number of works for solo instruments and orchestra including concertos each for piano, cello and violin. Composed in 1985 the five movement Concerto for bassoon and small orchestra was introduced in 1986 in Milwaukee, USA with soloist Robert Thompson and the Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer. Panufnik commenced work on the score around the time of the news from his Polish homeland of the torture and murder of Catholic priest Father Jerzy Popieluszko by the secret police. Panufnik considered the Bassoon Concerto as a memorial to the martyrdom of Father Popieluszko. Designed in five sections with a twelve minute long fourth section titled Aria the swiftly shifting and starkly contrasting moods are typical of the composer. The bassoon soloist Michael von Schönermark relishes the Panufnik’s challenges playing throughout with impressive control and agility.
From 1976, a time when the composer was reading a lot of poetry, he was inspired to write the short ‘Love Song’ for mezzo-soprano and piano, a setting of text from ‘Just Exchange’ a witty 16th century love poem by Sir Philip Sidney (1554-1586). In 1919 during the last days of his life Panufnik arranged this for mezzo-soprano and strings. This version was introduced the next year by the British mezzo Meriel Dickinson with the chamber orchestra London Musici directed by Mark Stephenson at the Wellington Museum, London.
The final work is ‘Landscape’ for string orchestra. Panufnik composed this in 1962 and revised it later in 1965. It was Panufnik who conducted the English Chamber Orchestra at the first performance in 1965 at Twickenham Parish Church, London. Described by the composer as an “atmospheric interlude” for string orchestra it could be classed as a companion to the contemporaneous Autumn Music.
The playing throughout is fresh, attractive and well prepared. The booklet notes are up to the CPO’s usual high standard. Excellent sound quality too, clear and especially well balanced.