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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Orchestral Music - Volume 8
Violin Concerto (1971) [22.28]
Cello Concerto (1991) [20.14]
Piano Concerto (1961/72/83) [23.08]
Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin)
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Ewa Kupiec (piano)
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Lukasz Borowicz
rec. Konzerthaus Berlin, 29-30 January 2013 (cello, piano); 24-27 June 2013 (violin)
CPO 777 687-2 [66.15]

CPO’s wonderful complete overview of Panufnik’s orchestral works continues with these fascinating concertos written over a period of some thirty years.

The Violin Concerto was first performed in 1971 not 1927 as the otherwise exemplary and detailed booklet notes state. It was written for Yehudi Menuhin. The composer’s approach to its composition is given in his own words which I will quote as we go through the piece.

Panufnik is quoted saying that there are three elements to bringing a new work to fruition: 1. The reason for writing the work; 2. “then the architectural structure, then (3) the material of which the piece is to be built”. Later the quote ends with “in all my works I attempt to achieve a true balance between feeling and intellect, impulse and design”. It was Elizabeth Maconchy who said that music should be “passionately intellectual and intellectually passionate”. Panufnik wanted to write for Menuhin a singing and expressive work yet based on the kind of organized melodic structures, which were his thumbprint. I can say immediately that this is wonderfully achieved.

The work is in three movements with the central Adagio being marginally the longest. I was at a talk recently as part of the Presteigne Festival, which touched on Panufnik in the context of contemporary Polish composers when the speaker played a chord on the piano with a minor third on top of a major chord beneath. He said that that sound “was a Panufnik fingerprint” and this middle movement certainly demonstrates that. Its origins may lie in Panufnik’s Sinfonia Rustica (original version, 1948) his first essay in that form but also much further back in Polish folk music. The composer’s intention was to “write this movement with utter simplicity and fragility of means”. It follows a movement marked Rubato which begins with a “quasi-cadenza” containing the seeds of the entire work. Some of these re-emerge in the Vivace finale, which “continues the explorative use of minor and major thirds”. It brings the work to joyous and humorous conclusion.

Although this performance lacks the authority of Panufnik and Menuhin from 1972 on EMI this recording is more vivid and, I have to say, Sitkovetsky seems to be more technically secure.

Another famous performer who, by his own admission, Panufnik was lucky enough to write for was Rostropovich. He gave the world premiere of the Cello Concerto the year after the composer’s death; this was Panufnik’s last major work. The composer is quoted as saying “ the cello is my favourite musical instrument” but it's curious then that he left this concerto until it was almost too late; he was, though, inspired by the “great interpretative powers of Mstislav Rostropovich”. There is no sentimentality and romantic languor. The two movements are an Adagio, which grows as if from the very bowels of the earth to a powerful and traumatic climax before fading back to its starting point. The slightly shorter Vivace is quite brittle and exciting with a curious almost desiccated cadenza falling towards its energetic ending. The composer wrote about the construction and the formal inspiration as derived from the 'mandorla' - a “palindromic almond shape figure of two equal, overlapping circles”. He continues, “the concerto could be a palindrome within itself as well as a reflection of each other”.

Raphael Wallfisch is no mean substitute and he captures the work’s fervour and inner passions with complete conviction.

The interesting thing about the Piano Concerto is that it’s the middle movement, marked Larghetto molto tranquillo that seems to steal the show. Yet it is so incredibly lacking in notes and it’s the longest movement of the three. One feels the piano part could be played by a pianist of quite limited ability let alone John Ogdon who performed it in 1983. It certainly captured my imagination, but the work’s history is that the original version was first heard in Birmingham in 1961 but Panufnik was dissatisfied by it, more especially the first movement. For its next outing the following year it became a two-movement work: the Larghetto and the Presto molto agitato. The problem with that was possibly that the Presto, which runs to just two minutes less than the Larghetto, also contained a quite lengthy passage of slow music. In 1982 Panufnik added the tense but rhythmically exhilarating opening Entrata - a four minute romp which balances the tempi and mood and is full of percussion. Ewa Kupiec is a name new to me but she coaxes crystal clear playing out of the instrument in the outer movements and is beautifully and sensitively balanced in the central one.

The forty-four page booklet comes with detailed essays in three languages by Christoph Schlüren, several black and white photos of the performers and of the composer and the usual biographies. This highly desirable recording project is superbly focused and balanced in the usual CPO style.

Gary Higginson