This (2014) is Andrzej Panufnik’s centenary year. The celebrations are set out in a well detailed website
and reflected in the magnificent CPO orchestral series
conducted by Lukasz Borowicz. I should add that the Saffron Walden Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Hull will be playing the Sinfonia Sacra
at Saffron Hall on 22 November 2014 (0845 548 7650).
The contrast between Old Testament fury and New Testament whispered prayer is often a feature of Panufnik’s orchestral works. Examples can be found in his glorious Sinfonia Elegiaca
and the slightly more oblique Piano Concerto, both of which are being played at Symphony Hall by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with Peter Donohoe on Panufnik’s birthday on 24 September 2014 (0121 345 0600). Those two works formed a large part of my initiation into Panufnik's world from a Radio 3 studio broadcast circa 1975 by Malcolm Binns with the composer conducting the BBC Scottish to mark the composer's 60th birthday. The Elegiaca
still strikes me as one of his most unshakably potent works.
Those polar opposites of violent desperation and still calm are also at play — if that is the word — in the composer’s piano music. The Twelve Miniature Studies could easily have been academic. They turn out to be miniature and contrasted facets of the composer's personality. Taking a few examples: I: a breathless crystalline cascade of notes of such motoric drive you might almost imagine them as one of Conlon Nancarrow's pianola studies. II: a confiding introspection of the type by which the composer is known from his Sinfonia Sacra
. IV: a hypnotically bluesy quiet tolling. V: a galloping angular 'blocky' rush. VIII: a dewy dream. XII: excitement released yet barely contained in a distorted reflection of the first of the studies.
Roxanna Panufnik - herself a composer of some eminence - first appears here as the arranger of three movements from her father’s Hommage á Chopin
. This work we may know from its version for flute and strings (1949, rev. 1955) a recording of which has been reviewed here
. This in turn began life as Five Vocalises
for soprano and piano; I would like to hear that. These are no Chopin facsimiles – nothing like Silvestrov’s composer pastiches - but a genuine personal homage and of some moment. The final Andante
for example is distinctively Panufnik: accessible but not facile.
The 12 minute Pentasonata
is governed by the number five; indeed number and geometrical schemes are to be found at the heart of several of his works. It was the composer's stated aim in this work: ‘to achieve a balance between heart and mind, intellect and emotion’. Along the way in this his single largest continuously playing piece we encounter plangent Tippett-like bluesy pages, the fragmented shards of what feels like a nightmare, descents into taciturn silence and trailing strands. This is one of the composer's most overtly angular and modernistic works: a dark pilgrimage indeed. Like everything here it is thoughtfully and powerfully put across by Clare Hammond. Her engineer collaborators at Bis have done their usual handsome service at every professional, technical and presentational turn.
The joint father-daughter piece Modlitwa
(Prayer) began as a work for voice and keyboard. It was arranged and completed by the daughter after her father’s death. It is a touching and unhurried piece – almost sentimental. It would play well in the company of PMD’s Farewell to Stromness
. It is redolent of similar passages in the Heroic Overture
and Sinfonia Sacra
. A similar tolling, both imposing and smiling, runs at first through Roxanna Panufnik’s Second Home
– a set of variations on the polish folk-theme Hejze ino, fijolecko lesny
. This soon picks up a jazzy impulse which in turn fades quite magically into a slowly progressed reflection. Her very brief and slowly self-focused Glo
was written in memory of a family friend who died of cancer.
We are told that Andrzej Panufnik’s Reflections
, which was written shortly after the birth of Roxanna is testimony to the composer's life-long fascination with mirror forms and geometric patterns. It's typically calm, self-absorbed and mesmeric with its dark waters stirred from time to time. Its language is not far removed from that of the Miniature Studies
but looks forward to the at times unforgivingly jagged contouring of the Pentasonata
Clare Hammond provides the programme note complete with a diagrammatic representation of the Miniature Studies
which began life as Circle of Fifths
We should note that there is a Divine Art
disc of the Miniature Studies
by Raymond Clarke. It couples these three works with some Shostakovich and include neither the Chopin Homage
nor the Roxanna Panufnik works.
A strong disc from Clare Hammond with genuine music that ranges from instantly gratifying to something more iron-clad requiring time and repetition.