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Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Violin Concerto (1971) [24.52]
Cello Concerto (1991) [19.53]
Piano Concerto (1961, rev. 1972, 1983) [24.12]
Robert Kabara (violin); Roman Jabłońsky (cello); Bogdan Czapiewski (piano)
Symphony Orchestra of the Stanisłav Moniuszki Academy of Music, Gdánsk/Zygmunt Rychert
rec. 7-9 November 2014, 28-30 April 2015, Concert Hall of the Stanisłav Moniuszki Academy of Music, Gdánsk
DUX 1176 [69.00]

The earliest of the three works collected together here, the Piano Concerto, has a complicated history. It was completed in its first form in 1961, but the composer later became dissatisfied with the first movement. The work was then for some years performed in its two-movement form, before he composed a completely new first movement. The work achieved its final form only in 1983. The new first movement is introductory in nature, and very short. It is, nonetheless, a powerful utterance, beginning with a brief instrumental call-to-arms, followed by a piano cadenza stuffed full of astringent and dissonant harmonies. Each of its four minutes is combative and violent. In complete contrast is the slow movement, composed seemingly of a series of isolated notes that only rarely coalesce into something resembling melodic writing. The atmosphere is one of profound calm, with idiosyncratic writing for the soloist and an orchestral accompaniment full of tam-tam and triangle strokes. The finale brings more contrast, its violent opening all the more shocking for what has preceded it. The energy of this finale drives all before it, though alleviated by a remarkable middle section composed of sustained notes and running scales. The vigorous music returns to close the work.

There are many uncompromising and typical Panufnik features in this work, moments where the composer makes decisions that few others would have the courage – or inclination – to make. The booklet tells us that the work is “being performed by a growing number of pianists”, but I wonder to what extent this is true. It creates a powerful impression, and this performance from Bogdan Czapiewski certainly makes a very strong case for it. The recording is close, analytical and dramatic, though the fadeout that cuts off the reverberation after the short first movement — and a little extraneous noise after the final notes of the Cello Concerto — bring back memories of the bad old days of Eastern bloc recordings.

The three-movement Violin Concerto was composed in 1971 for Yehudi Menuhin and premiered by him in London, with the composer conducting, the following year. They recorded the work together for EMI Classics in 1975. The accompaniment is for strings only. A quote from the composer in Beata Bolesławska-Lewandowska’s excellent booklet essay provides the best clue to its character: “I was composing a piece to expose the soul of the performer rather than to transform the fingerboard into a gymnasium for bouncing strings.” The work, then, is deeply felt, even romantic in mood, a touching tribute to the eminent violinist who was also the composer’s close friend. The first movement opens and closes with musing passages for the soloist alone, the second preceded by a particularly atmospheric passage with pizzicato accompaniment. The slow movement is warmly expressive, whilst the finale displays features of Polish traditional dance rhythms. I haven’t heard the dedicatee’s performance of the piece, but I doubt that it can surpass this one. Robert Kabara plays with great assurance, warmth of tone and depth of feeling. The string orchestra accompaniment is sumptuously played and recorded.

The Cello Concerto was composed for another grand figure, Mstislav Rostropovich. It was completed in 1991, the year of the composer’s death, and first performed at a memorial concert the following year. Once again Panufnik seems not to have been interested in virtuoso display for its own sake, though parts of the second of the two movements sound fearsomely difficult to my ears. The work is again scored for a modest ensemble, five wind instruments plus timpani and strings. The timpani open the work with a mysterious, distant roll. The first movement is a sombre meditation, with dark colours, and the timpani return to close it. The first part of the second movement is lively, with the drums again playing an important part. The soloist, who has been an equal partner to the ensemble up till now, takes over with a long, musing cadenza before the lively music returns to close the work. This piece was new to me, and if it does not reveal its secrets so easily as does the Violin Concerto, it now seems to me to be the greater work of the two. It receives here a performance from Roman Jabłońsky that is fully worthy of its qualities, and the playing of the Gdánsk orchestra under Zygmunt Rychert is outstanding throughout the programme.

The Violin Concerto is a most approachable work that can be readily appreciated and enjoyed at a first hearing. The other two works are quite different, yet complementary, making the whole disc an excellent point of departure for a newcomer wanting to get to know the music of this most fascinating of composers. Any listener who responds positively will surely then want to move on to the superb series of symphonies on the CPO label. There is also a CPO release of these three concertos (review).

William Hedley

Previous review: Dominy Clements



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