Tomasz SIKORSKI (1939-1988)
Music in Twilight, for piano and orchestra (1978) [23:58]
Sonant, for piano (1967) [14:52]
Hymnos, for piano (1979) [15:59]
Euphony, for piano (1982) [10:30]
Szábolcs Esztényi (piano: Twilight)
Ewa Guziołek-Tubelewicz (piano)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Zsolt Nagy
rec. 2006, Philharmonic Concert Hall, Warsaw (Twilight), 2017, Polish Radio Studios, Warsaw
DUX 1466 [65:29]
Richard Hanlon’s excellent review of this release covers some of the background and context of Tomasz Sikorski’s work, so I have to luxury of limiting myself to a response to what we hear on this remarkable recording.
Working chronologically I’ll start with Sonant which, as the booklet quotes, is “a piece based on the contrast between the attack and note sustain.” Sharply contrasting dynamic layers explore the resonance of the piano to a certain extent, but the double-beat rhythmic thread which runs through the work is also a way of sustaining – we’re not left hanging with endless decay, but have a constant variation through an active engagement that can include dynamic rise and fall, but in any case involves a great deal of change and development. A way of describing it might be one of Messiaen’s songbirds slowed down to 30% or so while maintaining pitch. The sounds are an exploration of overtones and sonorities rather than an interpretation of something concrete in nature itself, but there is an absence of anything machine-like despite the passages of repetition.
Music in Twilight expands this concept using the orchestra as a tremendous extension to the piano. As Richard Hanlon pointed out, this is not a piano concerto in the usual sense, though the soloist’s role does guide the material for much of the piece. Sustain is eloquently commented on and expanded in orchestral sounds that create fields of effects that thrill and chill in ways of course not possible with a conventionally played piano. This is then more of a ‘concerto grosso’, with its central soloist in a moving symbiosis – inextricably linked but also distinct, the distance between piano and orchestra forming another expressive tension akin to Zeno’s Paradox as the two are never able to meet entirely, but equally owe their ongoing lives to the other. Playing in a student orchestra at the RAM I’ll never forget Penderecki’s instructions to the percussionists struggling to make meaningful sounds from their ocarinas: “it should sound like the ‘uman voice…” This is perhaps one way of listening to Music in Twilight – as an instrumental oratorio: the orchestra a strange and enigmatic chorus, the piano a sometimes charming, sometimes impassioned, sometimes tragically resigned Evangelist. One can always find one’s own narrative in such a work, and this is strong part of its power.
Playing Hymnos directly after Sonant gives to much of an impression of ‘more of the same but louder’, so as a producer I wouldn’t have placed them in this order on the CD. There is a more overt sense of drama in Hymnos set up by the opening and the substance and impact of the more forceful gestures. Quieter sections are therefore imbued with a sense of expectation, anticipating further outbursts. The suspension of time is an element here as with all of these pieces, but the sense of flow and direction is also ever-present. If we’re going to pursue the vocal analogies then I would almost dare to describe this as an instrumental mini-opera. The build-up of tension in the middle section or ‘second act’ is palpable, taking it to entirely different places to anything by Morton Feldman, though comparisons are inevitable. The final scene – the penultimate five minutes or so – becomes a dark descent: more Wozzeck than Don Giovanni to start with, the protest against the dying of the light an occasional flash of energy taken from the opening. The actual apotheosis is a final powerful coda, not triumphant by any means, but preventing us from forgetting – imprinting something on the memory like a fiery brand.
The character of Euphony is, with its feel of quasi-resolving harmonic cadence and melodic cells, the most ‘romantic’ piece in this collection. Even the more minimalist repetitions toward the end take on a Lisztian feel, and the final minute or so is definitely in B-flat.
With the authoritative provenance of its performers and the striking nature of the works in this programme this is the kind of release that should force a well-deserved renaissance in appreciation for one of Poland’s less high-profile compositional voices.
Previous review: Richard Hanlon