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Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Symphonic Works: Volume 6
Concertino for Timpani, Percussion and Strings (1979/80, revised 1988) [15:41]*
Sinfonia di Speranza (Symphony No. 9) (1986) [42:33]
Michael Oberaigner (timpani), Christian Löffler (percussion)*
Konzerthausorchester Berlin/Łukasz Borowicz<
rec. 15-18 November 2011, Konzerthaus, Berlin, Germany
CPO 777 685-2 [58:38]

To date I have every release in this marvellous series (see also reviews of Volumes 1-3 and Volume 4). I have reviewed Volumes 5 (review) and 7 (review) but for some reason I am approaching volume 6 out of order; it matters little. I’m just delighted to be hearing this impressive and often inspiring music. CPO's mainstay on this occasion is Łukasz Borowicz who has used two orchestras: the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Konzerthausorchester Berlin who play here on volume 6. Only last month I attended a concert by the Konzerthausorchester Berlin under Iván Fischer at the Philharmonie as part of the Musikfest Berlin and I can confirm it is maintaining tremendous form.

Both works on this release come from Panufnik’s late period. In 1980 Panufnik had been a British citizen since 1961 and had settled at Twickenham near the River Thames becoming the recipient a number of profitable commissions. Composed in 1979/80 the Concertino for Timpani, Percussion and Strings was, according to Panufnik, written both as a concert work and a percussion section test-piece for a Shell/LSO scholarship. With the Concertino Panufnik wanted people to hear percussion in a different more expressive way and had said “its unusual instrumental colours and emphasis on the rhythmic elements should make it intriguing for listeners.” It was the LSO that premièred the Concertino in 1981 under the baton of André Previn. In 1988 he revised the score and it is this version that Borowicz has used here. The Concertino focuses on an array of prominent percussion over a bed of unremitting shadowy and forbiddingly intense strings. Borowicz conducts a performance that is both perceptive and vibrant with an abundance of atmosphere. Notable are the highly attractive section Canto II - an intense lament scored predominantly for strings and light percussion and also the strident and angry concluding section. Taking centre-stage the playing of timpanist Michael Oberaigner and percussionist Christian Löffler show skill and unerring concentration.

Following some six years later in 1986 came the Symphony No. 9, Sinfonia di Speranza (Symphony of Hope). It was a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society for its 175th anniversary. This was the same society that had commissioned Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Written in a time of violence and terrorism Panufnik said that the score “reflects my musical interpretation of the ideal of hope… a spiritual message, an expression of my faith in mankind as well as my longing for racial and religious tolerance amongst all people.” It was the composer who conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the work's première in 1987 at the Royal Festival Hall, London. Lasting here just over forty-two minutes it is probably Panufnik’s most expansive score. It is cast in a single continuous movement and indexed here into seventeen sections. After reading a typically complex explanation provided by the composer I was able to understand the following “the framework for this work, which is composed on two planes; a continuous flowing melodic line, and, in contrast, the continual; progression of a three note cell…” The score could be said to be a substantial set of variations. It consists of a number of extended Adagio sections of differing character: mainly agreeable and unruffled, contrastingly shot through with vociferous brassy outbursts. The final section marked Maestoso increases in stridency and weight with a sustained high level of tension before erupting into a series of thundering climaxes which come to an abrupt end.

In both works we hear exemplary playing from a scrupulously prepared, persuasive and totally committed orchestra. I love the way Borowicz ensures there is plenty of dramatic bite especially in the Sinfonia di Speranza and sufficient sensitivity when required.

In the booklet there are useful essays together with some fine pictures. Recorded in 2011 at the magnificent rectangular space that is the Konzerthaus, Berlin the engineers have excelled in vibrantly clear and well balanced sound. Splendidly played and well recorded this compelling series goes from strength to strength.

Michael Cookson

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