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Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Symphonic Works: Volume 8
Violin Concerto (1971) [22:28]
Cello Concerto (1991) [20:14]
Piano Concerto (1957, 1961/62, rev. 1970/72, rev. 1982/83) [23:08]
Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin), Raphael Wallfisch (cello), Ewa Kupiec (piano)
Konzerthausorchester Berlin/Łukasz Borowicz
rec. 29-30 January 2013, (Violin Concerto), 24-27 June 2013 (Cello and Piano Concertos), Konzerthaus, Berlin, Germany
CPO 777687-2 [66:15]

With this release CPO's Panufnik orchestral series draws to its conclusion. Starting with works recorded in 2008 and first released in 2010 this has been an eminently enjoyable and enlightening survey so excellently played and recorded too.
Warsaw-born conductor Łukasz Borowicz has been the mainstay of the series conducting all eight volumes in what amounts to nearly nine hours of music. For the first three volumes (review) Borowicz used the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra with volumes four to eight being played by the Konzerthausorchester Berlin (Volume 4 ~~ Volume 5 ~~ Volume 6 ~~ Volume 7).
The Concerto for violin and strings was written in 1971 in response to a request by Yehudi Menuhin. In 1972 Yehudi Menuhin and the Menuhin Festival Orchestra conducted by the composer premièred the score at the Guildhall, London; the booklet notes state incorrectly the score was premièred in 1927. Menuhin's recording was issued on LP and reissued on CD: EMI Classics CDM 5 66121 2. The heart of work is the Adagio which begins and ends with writing of calm reflection and a central section disturbed by a sense of disquiet. Framing the Adagio is the rumbustious, upbeat and vigorously paced opening movement (Rubato). Not too dissimilar is the final Vivace which is spirited, dance-like and urgent and has an undertow of tension. Alexander Sitkovetsky plays marvellously taking everything in his stride while displaying lovely string tone.

Panufnik’s last work to be composed, the Cello Concerto from 1991, was a commission by the LSO. The inspirations behind the work were the playing of Mstislav Rostropovich and the composer’s love of the cello. It was introduced in 1992 by Rostropovich and the LSO under Hugh Wolff at the Barbican Hall, London who recorded it (NMC D010S). Modestly scored for pairs of oboes and clarinets, single horn, drums and strings this two movement score opens with a yearning, brooding Adagio. The strong cello line creates a disconcerting, almost sinister sound-world. Pounding percussion over pizzicato strings opens the second and final movement: Vivace. For the cadenza at 4:32-8:21 the cello has an irascible feel that becomes unsettling and increasingly agitated. Displaying complete control of Panufnik’s score cellist Raphael Wallfisch is a persuasive interpreter and plays beautifully.
The two movement Piano Concerto was premièred in 1962 by Kendall Taylor with the CBSO under the composer at the Town Hall, Birmingham. Adding an Entrata the revised three movement score was recorded for BBC broadcast in 1983 by John Ogdon. The BBC Symphony Orchestra was conducted by the composer. Panufnik modified the score again and the final version of the concerto was played by Ewa Pobłocka and the National Philharmonic Hall Orchestra at the Warsaw Autumn Festival in 1986. The three movement concerto played here by pianist Ewa Kupiec commences with a relatively short, agitated and irascible Entrata for the orchestra contrasted with a calmer, more tolerant yet determined piano part. Quiet and contemplative is the tone of the central movement Larghetto. The composer’s notes mention dialogues between both soloist and orchestra, and between wind and strings. In truth there is little happening, the overall effect feels wearing rather than relaxing. Marked Presto molto agitato the final movement is generally upbeat and buoyantly rhythmic. It has a largely restless character coupled with a sense of uncertainty. Kupiec’s highly assured playing is direct and spirited but she hardly seems overstretched.
I’m not sure the concerto was the form in which Panufnik worked best. Where his most inspirational works are concerned these three concertos are way down the league table. Here all three soloists play with great skill and unfailing commitment but they can’t make the music sound better than it is.
The excellent Konzerthausorchester Berlin under Łukasz Borowicz puts not a foot wrong and plays exceptionally well. The booklet notes are a model of proficiency and includes a series of fine photographs. No problem at all with the excellent sound recorded in 2013 at the Konzerthaus, Berlin — a fine recording venue.
Michael Cookson

Previousreview: Gary Higginson