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Symphonies 1, 2, 3

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Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
String Quartet No. 1 [17:42]
String Quartet No. 2 Messages [19:25]
String Quartet No. 3 Wycinanki [10:57]
Song to the Virgin Mary (arr. by the composer for string sextet) [11:10]
Modlitwa (arr. by Roxanna Panufnik for string sextet) [6:36]
Roxanna PANUFNIK (b. 1968)
Memories Of My Father (1. O Tu, Andrzej) [5:57]
Memories Of My Father (2. Greek Photostory) [5:57]
Brodsky Quartet; Robert Smissen (viola); Richard May (cello)
rec. 9-11 December 2013, The Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, UK
CHANDOS CHAN 10839 [78:24]

Following on from the Tippett Quartet's excellent recording of the Andrzej Panufnik string quartets for Naxos (8.573164) comes another fine recording. This time it comes with better and more appropriate fillers: the two arrangements for string sextet and the two pieces by his daughter, Roxanna. These make fine accompanying works.

The string quartets are strongly rhythmic and deeply personal. The Second Quartet for example was inspired by the composer’s childhood memories of listening to the sound of telegraph wires vibrating in the wind. That might sound a bit odd, but the result is mesmerising.

The Brodsky Quartet are generally quicker than the Tippett Quartet, although this is hard to believe, as they tend to make more of the slower more meditative music than their rivals. For example, the second movement Transformations of the Quartet No. 1 has a greater sense of gravitas; the same can also be said of the slower music in No. 2. The String Quartet No. 3 is perhaps my favourite of the three. It is dedicated to the composer's children, Roxanna and Jeremy, both composers in their own right. It contains some of Andrzej Panufnik’s most heartfelt music. Maybe it reflects the reminiscences of a sick man but you only have to listen to the final section, which the Brodsky’s bring off exceptionally well, to understand just where the composer is coming from and what he is trying to say.

The two pieces for string sextet that bookend this disc, Modlitwa (Prayer) and Song to the Virgin Mary, are both arrangements of vocal works. Both works sitting well in their arrangements. The two works by Roxanna, which were commissioned by the Brodsky, are also worthy companions to her father’s music. The use of a line from Gesualdo’s motet O vos omnes, is quite remarkable, whereas the memories of family holidays enshrined in the second piece constitute a fitting in memoriam to her father.

This is a truly excellent disc, but then so is the Tippett Quartet’s recording. I am really happy to have both. The Brodsky though has the slightest of edges in the quartets. This is all down to their interpretation in the slower music. However, when it comes to the accompanying music, the Brodsky’s win hands down. I have never really got on with the String Quartet of Witold Lutosławski, whereas the music offered here only serves to expand our knowledge of the composer and his music. This new disc also wins in two other respects. Firstly, the sections of each of the quartets are banded, so you don’t have to skip your way through the work to find the bit you want. Secondly, in the accompanying booklet the essay by Roxanna Panufnik offers a greater insight and understanding, not only into the music but also into the man.

Stuart Sillitoe

Previous reviews: Terry Barfoot ~ David Barker