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Krzysztof PENDERECKI (1933-2020)
Accordion Concerto (arr. from Double Concerto, 2018) [20:39]
Saxophone Concerto (arr. from Flute Concerto, 2017) [23:24]
Maciej Frąckiewicz (accordion)
Bartlomiej Duś (soprano saxophone)
Jerzy Semkow Polish Sinfionia Iuventus Orchestra/Krzysztof Penderecki and Maciej Tworek
rec. 2018/19, Witold Lutosławski Hall, Warsaw
DUX 1571 [44:14]

Penderecki initially made his name with aggressively modernist works such as the Threnody to the victims of Hiroshima and the St Luke Passion. These had an enormous immediate impact, the more so because they came from behind the iron curtain, where all experimentation was officially frowned upon. These works and his others of the time are sometimes regarded as modernist classics, and have enjoyed several recordings, but I am not so sure of their staying power: they make a great impression on first hearing but this rapidly fades. It seems Penderecki himself came to a similar view, because in the 1970s he changed his style to a kind of neo-Romanticism, one which will not trouble anyone who is comfortable with, say, Walton or Prokofiev.

The two works here come from his later period. They constitute volume 8 of the concertos in what looks as if it is going to be a comprehensive Penderecki edition from the Polish label Dux, which has already run to nearly twenty volumes. Curiously, neither work is given in its original version, but in a transcription approved by the composer. The Accordion Concerto is a transcription of a Double Concerto for violin and viola or cello, though the booklet confusingly says that it was for viola and cello, which is incorrect. The Saxophone Concerto – the soprano instrument is used – is a transcription of one for flute. You can hear the original version of the Double Concerto on volume 7 of this series (DUX 1537) and the flute concerto on another one (unnumbered but DUX 1186). It seems that Penderecki is quite happy about his concertos being transcribed for instruments other than those he originally wrote for, as there are several others available in the Dux series.

The idea of a concerto for accordion seems at first more curious than delightful, as the instrument is one which, except for its South American version the bandoneon, as used by Piazzolla, seems to me essentially a solo instrument. However, the soloist here, Maciej Frąckiewicz, has a splendid technique, with pure intonation without the wobbles and wheezes I tend to associate with accordion playing. The work is in one movement. It begins with an almost whispered cadenza for the soloist, with a single double bass joining in before the rest of the orchestra. It builds up to a big climax and a second cadenza before ending quietly in the high register. In this version it is a pleasant work, but I feel that the original version might give more scope to the soloists.

The saxophone concerto is a more substantial work, also in one movement. Of course the saxophone is a good deal more like a flute than an accordion is like two string instruments, and Penderecki has also sanctioned a version for clarinet. It actually begins with a solo not from the soloist but from an orchestral clarinet (think Sibelius’ first symphony). There is an expressive Andante and then an exciting Allegro con brio which gets more and more animated. The music calms down in the final passage, which the composer marks ‘Total eclipse of the moon’ before fading away. Bartlomiej Duś, the soloist, plays most convincingly and I did not find myself wondering what the original flute version would be like.

I have to say that I did not find either of these two works particularly memorable, though they are pleasant enough listening. The booklet credits both the composer and Maciej Tworek as conductors; I suspect that Penderecki supervised while Tworek actually held the baton – he has a long track record with this composer. The recordings, made in the same hall at different dates, are admirable. This is probably one for the Penderecki completist rather than the general collector, but he or she should be well satisfied.

Stephen Barber

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