This release is dedicated “to the distinguished artist on the eve of his 80th birthday”, and is a superbly performed and recorded programme of chamber orchestra works. DUX has on occasion a knack of filling their booklets with information about the performers and composer while managing to avoid saying anything at all about the music. This is a minor irritation in an otherwise excellent production.
Penderecki’s Serenade has appeared on the Dux label before (see review), but this release has a far more satisfying programme even were there to be any argument about the quality of the performance. Reviews for equivalent repertoire on the Naxos label can be found here for the Serenade and Sinfonietta No. 2 in its version with clarinet; and here for the Viola Concerto. Antoni Wit’s recordings of Penderecki for Naxos are consistently good, and if you’ve already been collecting these you probably won’t feel the need to duplicate from Dux. If however you are only now embarking on your explorations of Penderecki this release has a vibrant quality which has a tendency to deliver just a little more than from Wit.
The Serenade has, like Bartók’s similarly innocently named Divertimento, a pretty potent musical punch, played with passion and energetic engagement by the Radom CO strings. The Sinfonietta No. 2 is another wide-ranging, concerto-like piece in which soloist Łukasz Długosz is heard to great effect. His flute tone is not quite as glossy as some, but to my ears this makes for a more durable sound, the musicality more significant than shining virtuoso brilliance. The Sinfonietta for Strings is once again played with incomparable verve by this orchestra. The intensity of experience is maintained to a higher pitch than with Antoni Wit on Naxos (8.572212), with Maciej Zółtowski somehow keeping a greater sense of direction and shape in all those solos in the first movement. The second movement is swifter from Wit, but there is a gritty irrepressibleness about the Radom performance which I find every bit as convincing.
Placed on one track rather than Naxos’s seven access points, the Viola Concerto is played here on cello by Rafał Kwiatkowski, who does a great job with the intense upper register passages and has a fine, full tone elsewhere. This is one of those pieces which works as well on viola as cello, but I have a sympathy for the sonorities and lyrical quality of the viola in this case as it moulds more closely to the upper strings of the orchestra. This may also be a feature of the Naxos recording, which has the soloist at a more realistic distance when compared to the Dux balance, which allows us to hear the cellist’s grunts and gasps in quieter passages. The cello makes for a more overtly dramatic listen where the viola is more elegiac, though there is little holding back from Grigori Zhislin on the Naxos recording. In the end this is an unequal comparison, and with both performances filled with high-octane musicianship I would be hard pressed to pick a champion.
Whatever your inclination, this is a Penderecki programme which ticks every box with regard to content, performance and production, and even by Dux’s usual high standards it emerges as an all-round winner.