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Wojciech KILAR (1932-2013)
The Very Best of Kilar
DUX 0906-07 [56:22 + 46:22]

Among contemporary composers appreciated both in Poland and abroad, Kilar has made his mark. From a statement of meditative prayer in Missa pro pace, to orchestral masterpieces such as the Piano Concerto and from film scores to Polonez and Tango. His wide compositional range, if not unprecedented, is certainly remarkable.

The Polish label, Dux, have made inroads into most aspects of the Polish repertoire. Kilar is amongst their avocations with quite a few discs of this composer's music in their stable. He has a lower profile than Lutoslawski, Penderecki, Gorecki, Karlowicz or Panufnik. Yet his music is no whit less attractive and memorable. Across these two discs - which are more than a mere sampler - we are treated to an experience of some substance. While I might have wished for longer playing times and more music, this remains a strong introduction to Kilar.

The Polonez, Tango and Mrowki are, respectively, examples of Shostakovich-brazen, strutting arrogance and playful determination. The last of these includes a great solo from an unidentified bassoonist. The choral Agnus Dei places ostinato minimalist singing of Agnus dei with a reverential melismatic vocalise from the female voices. The three Preludes for solo piano are lively and carry the unmistakable impress of Shostakovich in both their spikiness and their sentimentality. They can be heard as a Soviet-style echo of Gershwin's own trio of preludes. The two movements (fragments) from Missa Pro Pace are at first De profundis reflective but progressively develop as a source of luminous spirituality in the Credo. Everything here is reverential; there is nothing of mere trivial display. Part one of the Piano Concerto again evidences Kilar's leaning towards minimalism, ostinati and curvaceous gracious lyricism. It incorporates a long slow "sunrise" and a sense of receding into the glistening distance. Utterly compelling stuff - it's a shame we could not have had the whole work. The Choral Prelude for String Orchestra again rejects surface neon but compensates in sustained devotional concentration across its three minutes. Victoria from 1983, by contrast, is a determined, even militant piece, for mixed choir and orchestra. Words are spat out with vituperative definition. The second movement of the Magnificat returns us to what appears to be Kilar's true centre with a slowly iterated pulse and a solo line in which the melodic substance is carried, and somehow amplified, by the pulse. Like the Piano Concerto this traces a route via a protracted ascent to a climax and then a fading away into satiation. It is for solo soprano, choir and orchestra.

The second disc offers complete works and all of them orchestral music - in fact the whole of the "Tatra Polyptych" from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s. Each is played by a different Polish orchestra and conductor. We start with the Orawa for string orchestra. This is quick-pulsed and folksy with a strong bass line. Its currency is paid out in melodic material and chestily rhythmic lines reminiscent of the highland dances of Szymanowski in his superb Harnasie. It's a magnificent piece of writing and at an opposite pole to the Choral Prelude for Strings. Think in terms of Bartk and Tippett. It's completely accessible and with a highland wildness that is also evidenced by the final flourish. Koscielec 1909 rises almost imperceptibly from lugubrious silence to some toweringly Straussian climaxes, as at 10:12. It was inspired by a mountain in the Tatras where Mieczyslaw Karlowicz was killed in an avalanche, while skiing. This is one of the composer's most extended purely orchestral works and communicates both in tragedy and in triumph. The latter is voiced in dazzling celebration without pastiche. Finally, we come to the work by which I first came to know of Kilar. Krzesany was included on an ancient Jerusalem label LP circa 1977; I think the conductor was Witold Rowicki, famed for his Dvořk symphonies and Karlowicz tone poems and violin concerto. Here it is heard in a concert recording with the occasional cough - but not many. The score takes a sort of "fire dance" as its subject and handles it with belligerent, rasping, wild-eyed energy, especially in the second half. Beware - this is rafter-shaking music and Kilar here places less emphasis on melody. It's an anarchic hoe-down which I would liken to Percy Grainger's The Warriors but on a cocktail of steroids and speed.

The slipcase is cleverly constructed and likely to be durable. Into it goes a single-width double disc case plus a dumpy booklet.

The presentation is understated and monochrome with the only exception being the far from fussy 24 carat gold CDs.

The recording quality throughout is extremely good and the notes, though not specific to all of the works featured, are good.

Rob Barnett

CD 1
Polonez from Pan Tadeusz (1999)
Opole Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, Bogusław Dawidow – conductor

Tango from film Zazdrość i medycyna (1973)
Sinfonia Viva/Tomasz Radziwonowicz

Agnus Dei
Silesian Philharmonic Choir/Waldemar Sutryk

Three Preludes
Magdalena Prejsnar (piano)

Missa pro Pace (2000)
Kyrie, Credo
Lower Silesian Opera Choir, Witold Lutoslawski Philharmonic in Wrocław/Marek Pijarowski

Mrwki from Pan Tadeusz (1999)
Sinfonia Viva/Tomasz Radziwonowicz

Piano Concerto No. 1 / part one: Preludium. Andante con moto (1996)
Peter Jablonski (piano)
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Wojciech Rajski

Choral prelude for string orchestra – II: Choral. Misterioso
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Wojciech Rajski

Victoria for mixed choir and orchestra (1983)
Izabella Kłosińska (soprano), Tomasz Krzysica (tenor), Piotr Nowacki (bass)
Silesian Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra and Choir/Mirosław Jacek Blaszczyk

Magnificat for solo voices, choir and orchestra (2006)
Izabella Kłosińska (soprano)
Silesian Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Mirosław Jacek Blaszczyk

CD 2
Orawa (1988)
Silesian Chamber Orchestra/Massimiliano Caldi

Kościelec 1909 – Symphonic Poem (1976)
The Kielce Philharmonic Orchestra/Jacek Rogala

Krzesany (1974)
Opole Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Bogusław Dawidow


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