As the centenary year of Andzej Panufnik comes to its close it is right to
acknowledge his achievement through fine recordings such as this Chandos CD.
It is fitting too that his music should feature alongside that of his highly
talented daughter Roxanna, who pays her own creative tribute.
In excellent recorded sound, this disc features Panufnik's three string
quartets with Roxanna's pieces for string sextet, alternating them with the
intention of making a balanced programme. This procedure works well enough
and does have a certain logic, though the way the track-listings and
composition details are laid out on the page is a little misleading. I say
this as far as Roxanna's two-part memories are concerned, located as they
are on either side of her father's Second Quartet, 'Messages'. This
single-movement composition repays close attention, and while abstract
rather than programmatic, does hold interest in terms of how a composer's
imagination stirs to life. Panufnik explained that as a child he would place
his ear adjacent to a telegraph pole in order to listen to the strange
sounds of the wires interacting with the wind. From this he develops the
whole twenty minute work out of two cells of notes, of three and four: 'a
message made up of squares and triangles, rather than words'. Starting out
with eerie harmonics, barely audible, there is an arch form with a central
and powerful scherzo having abundant activity and punch.
It is a tribute to the dedicated playing of the Brodsky Quartet, and to
the recording, that the music makes such a strong impression. On Naxos 8.573164
the Tippett Quartet are no less fine,
with Lutoslawski's Quartet as the coupling, but the tracks are less
helpfully deployed and the recorded sound not quite as vivid.
Panufnik's string quartets are all late works, written in his sixties.
They therefore benefit from his experience as well as his creative
imagination. This was a deliberate delay, and the seriousness of purpose is
as palpable as the sense of homage to the medium and its great tradition.
Emanating from the germ of a single triadic chord, the First Quartet is less
friendly on a first hearing but repays time and attention. Its extended
central slow movement dominates the faster music either side of it. In light
of this sound quality is a priority and the Brodskys do not disappoint.
The Third Quartet dates from 1990, within six months of Panufnik's death,
and is dedicated to his children Roxanna and Jeremy. The first two quartets
were dedicated to his wife Camilla. In the circumstances it is tempting to
read a valedictory priority into the music, but it would be wrong to go too
far in this direction, since it was a commissioned piece from the London
(formerly Portsmouth) String Quartet Competition. Its first performances
took place within that context. The relationship between inspiration and
technique therefore must be understood in this light. In her excellent
programme note Roxanna Panufnik gives emphasis to these matters in a
particularly lucid way, which is most helpful to the listener approaching
the music for the first time.
The programme begins with Modlitwa
), based on a
poem by Jerzy Pietrkiewicz, whose outer sections are by the father with a
central section by the daughter. However, this was not a collaboration since
it was finalised in 2007 long after his death. Stylistically it works well
enough, though the contrast between the composers is evident too. Originally
the concept had been to have a recitation followed by a song. It was the
poet who asked Roxanna to provide a setting for the first part of the poem.
She also made instrumental arrangements including the present version for
string sextet for this recording.
The two movements of Roxanna's Memories of my Father
, scored for
string quartet, are located on the CD on either side of his Second Quartet.
This brings a certain logic to the balancing of the programme but is not
necessarily justified by the musical experience. Perhaps they would have
worked better together, though the listener can choose to play the tracks in
that order. The music is distinctive with references to Gesualdo on the one
hand and to childhood visits to Greece on the other, the latter replete with
The programme concludes with a nationalist homage, Panufnik's string
sextet arrangement of an a cappella
chorus, Song to the Virgin
, combining elements of plainchant and Polish folk music with great
imagination and subtlety. Here and elsewhere the Brodsky Quartet is ably
augmented by the violist Robert Smissen and the cellist Richard May.
Previous review: David Barker