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Kazimierz SEROCKI (1922-1981)
Forte e piano - music for two pianos and orchestra (1967) [12:55]
Pianophonie for piano, electronics and orchestra (1978) [32:28]
Jerzy Witkowski (piano); Szabolcs Esztényi (piano)
Narodowa Orkiestra Symfoniczna Polskiego Radia w Katowicach/Stanisław Wisłocki
Radiowa Orkiestra Symfoniczna w Krakowie/Stanisław Wisłocki
rec. 1973 & 1979, Polish Radio.
DUX 1287 [45:23]

Polish composer Kazimierz Serocki was no neo-romantic. Unlike say Elliott Carter and Iain Hamilton - try their First Symphonies - his earliest compositions showed little interest in tonality or melody. Serocki is intriguing but finds satisfaction and refuge - even joy - in a world that is austere, dramatic and boldly dissonant. He is not one for melodies or soft-focus. His music is close to the summit of the avant-garde and dates from its era of highest confidence. He was a practitioner of the subtle, inclined to protest and his 'vocabulary' extends to include a wide dynamic compass.

He studied in Łódź, graduating in 1946 and then pursuing his composition studies with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Until the early 1950s he was a concert pianist after which he dedicated himself to composition. With Tadeusz Baird he founded the Warsaw Autumn international contemporary music festival and was much associated with conductor-composer Jan Krenz. His orchestral works include the Romantic Concerto for piano and orchestra (1950), two symphonies (1952, 1953), a Sinfonietta for two string orchestras (1956), Symphonic Frescoes (1964), Dramatic Story for orchestra (1971), Fantasia elegiaca for organ and orchestra (1972) and Ad libitum: five pieces for symphony orchestra (1973-1977).

He made some impact on radio, often alongside works by Baird and often with Krenz conducting. The BBC Third Programme offered Colin Kingsley playing his Sonata as early as 1959 but Polish and other European mainland radio stations also provided tapes. In 1966 the Warsaw Philharmonic under Witold Rowicki was heard in the Sinfonietta. 1970-71 saw the Symphonic Frescoes played by Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Jan Krenz in Music in Our Time. Soon after that Forte e Piano was given by Aloys and Alfons Kontarsky with Michael Gielen directing the Hess Radio Orchestra. Pianophonie put in an appearance in early 1980 played by Szabolcs Esztenyi (piano) and Hans-Peter Haller (electronics) with the South-West German Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ernest Bour.

This is a short-duration disc featuring two works in which the piano or pianos play key roles in oratory and instigation alongside the orchestra. It is said that Serocki found sound textures and these works bear this out. He is very inventive. There may be momentary echoes of Stravinsky in Forte e piano but fantasy sounds, varied and kaleidoscopic, are evidently his main preoccupation. The music is imposing, stony, inclined to protest and the odd screech. Electronics are used in Pianophonie (8:21) to magnify the palette from which some surprisingly lush effects are conjured (15:00). There are also some terrifying flights of fancy and some fantastic electronic noises that might remind film music specialists of Bebe and Louis Barron's score for The Forbidden Planet (1956). A cold-world fanfare can be heard at 20:00 - an almost conventional Ivesian touch in such a score - alongside the return of a groaning quiet string glissando from early on in the score. There are sounds that could almost be Holstian but they are far more austere. A withering sense of theatre includes a welter of glittering percussion (as at 6:22 in Forte e piano) and a hammering salvo to bring this virtuoso phantasmagoria of a piece to a close.

Serocki's music has been reviewed here before. To gain a wider perspective have a look at the following: Romantic Piano Concerto, the Preludes and the Trombone Concerto. Not reviewed here is a disc, also from Dux (1284), of Serocki's complete piano music (Sonata for piano (1955); The Gnomes: Children's Miniatures (1953); Suite of Preludes (1952); A piacere: Suggestions for piano (1962-63)). This is played by Adam Kośmieja. Also worth exploring, though hardly ingratiating, is the music of another Pole, Boleslaw Szabelski (1896-1979). Try to find Olympia OCD300 - a disc dedicated to his music.

It's a shame about the parsimonious playing time but if you want to sample what was quickening pulses in more arcane circles in the 1960s and 1970s this will serve you well. The recordings (Polish Radio) and performances seem nothing short of brilliant and the well appointed liner-note in Polish and English is by Iwona Lindstedt. I hope that someone will take an interest in those two Serocki symphonies from the early 1950s.

Rob Barnett



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