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Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Composer’s introduction to Bassoon Concerto [3:12]
Bassoon Concerto [19:20]
Composer’s introduction to Symphony No. 9 [3:45]
Symphony No. 9 Sinfonia di Speranza [40:37]
Robert Thompson (bassoon)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/composer
rec. 6 October 1987, BBC studio recording.
HERITAGE HTGCD266 [66:56]

This Heritage release marks the centenary of the birth of Andzej Panufnik. These composer-conducted performances were made for BBC Radio 3 in 1987 and first broadcast in 1990. Both works are compelling and most enjoyable on first hearing.
 
The Bassoon Concerto, commissioned by Robert Thompson, was composed as a memorial to martyrdom inspired by the persecution, at the hands of the Polish secret police, of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko. The same soloist also recorded the work for Conifer in 1989 (CDCF182) and the timings are remarkably similar, as is the overall concept and interpretation (Conifer 19:31; Heritage 19:20). This is hardly surprising on the basis that Mr. Thompson worked very closely with the composer on this concerto and it is clearly close to his heart. The Heritage version is preferable on two counts. First of all, the recording is warmer and closer, thus making it more involving for the listener. Secondly, the BBC Symphony Orchestra produces a more luxuriant string tone compared to the London Musici and this is really telling in the opening bars where the double basses and cellos have tremendous bite, depth and presence.

The concerto has moments of anger, probably reflecting the emotions that Panufnik was feeling about the treatment meted out to Father Jerzy Popiełuszko. It is controlled anger, though, due to the use of an orchestra comprising flute, twi clarinets and strings. Bassoon and orchestra seem to be holding a discussion, sometimes reflective, sometimes heated but mostly sombre. The central Aria, running around ten minutes, gives the soloist ample opportunity to display the instrument’s singing tone. This Aria is an elegy written in the style of a Polish folk song. The violent string motif from the very opening of the work returns at the beginning of the short final Epilogo. Here, the bassoon finally has the chance to show off its more comical characteristics as the work comes to a jaunty close.
 
Written soon after the Bassoon Concerto, Symphony No. 9, Sinfonia di Speranza, is Panufnik’s musical interpretation of the ideal of hope: a spiritual message, an expression of faith in mankind and a longing for racial and religious tolerance. It is a remarkable single movement symphony running for over forty minutes with its material derived from a three note motif - referred to by the composer as a motif of hope. Like Beethoven’s Ninth, this music is optimistic in nature. The symphony is lyrical and contemplative but any risk of monotony is avoided by the inclusion of rhythmically animated passages within the twelve-section structure. Panufnik’s string writing is especially expert and most telling. The continuous forty minute melodic line on display here strikes me as structurally sound and spiritually moving.
 
This CD, with its exemplary performances and vivid sound quality, deserves to attract a wider listening public to the powerful, lyrical, mournful and sometimes gritty music of Panufnik. The spoken introductions by the composer are a nice finishing touch. Maybe Heritage can now consider reissuing the composer’s Universal Prayer conducted by Stokowski on Unicorn and maybe the same label’s rousing Shires Suite by Tippett. Both would be most welcome.

John Whitmore