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Sir Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991) and Roxanna PANUFNIK (b. 1968)
Modlitwa (1990/1999, rev. 2007) [6:36]*
Sir Andrzej PANUFNIK
String Quartet No. 1 To My Wife (1976, rev. 1977) [17:42]
String Quartet No. 2 Messages (1980) [19:25]
String Quartet No. 3 Wycinanki (1990) [10:57]
Song to the Virgin Mary (1964/69, arr. 1987) [11:10]*
Memories of my Father (2013) [11:34]
Brodsky Quartet; Robert Smissey (viola)*; Richard May (cello)*
rec. The Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, 9-11 December 2013
CHANDOS CHAN10839 [78:24]

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 (Prayer), 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 characterful pizzicato.

The programme concludes with a nationalist homage, Panufnik's string sextet arrangement of an a cappella chorus, Song to the Virgin Mary, 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.

Terry Barfoot

Previous review: David Barker