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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]
Szábolcs Esztényi, Jerzy Witkowski (piano)
Polish Radio and Television Orchestra, Krakow; Great Polish Radio and Television Orchestra, Katowice/Stanisław Wisłocki
rec. 1973/79, Polish Radio
DUX 1287 [45:23]

Serocki may be one of the lesser-known Polish composers of his generation although he and some of his contemporaries such as Tadeusz Baird achieved some recognition in avant-garde circles until their untimely deaths in 1981.

Serocki's early music, which includes two symphonies (1952 and 1953), the Romantic Concerto for piano and orchestra (1951 and available on DUX 0651 reviewed here), the Trombone Concerto (1953 and available on BIS CD-538) and the lovely Sinfonietta for double string orchestra (1956) – incidentally the very first piece of his that I ever heard – is still neo-classical in outlook and style. Some time later, his music-making changed rather radically and aligned itself with the then current Polish avant-garde represented by Penderecki and others. This resulted in a series of sonically impressive works such as Episodes (1959) for 50 strings and 6 percussions, Segmenti (1961) and Fresques symphoniques (1964) to which one may add Continuum (1966) recorded by Les Percussions de Strasbourg.

Both pieces recorded here belong to Serocki's modernist manner characterised by the importance of timbre as the main ingredient of the music fabric that he developed with a formidable imagination and a firm grip of its material. There is next to nothing 'traditional’ in these two works which explore new sonic territories. Forte e piano for two pianos and orchestra was commissioned by Otto Tomek, head of the music department of the Westdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne, and was taken up by the Kontarsky brothers, who were then heady champions of new music.  Although in one single movement, the piece actually falls into four interlinked sections which thus roughly hints at a rather loose concerto lay-out. The music, however, is fairly intricately worked-out and the overall structure of the whole work has some cyclical elements, in that the powerful opening section will reappear almost verbatim at the very end of the piece, bringing the music full circle. Needless to say, there is much which intervenes in between. As suggested by the title, the music travels through various musical climates in turn forcefully declaimed and somewhat more restrained. It goes without saying that the piano parts are quite demanding and physically exhausting, much in the vein of what was composed for piano at that period, but the music's sheer energy seizes one by the scruff of the neck and never loosens its grip.

Composed at the end of Serocki's life, Pianophonie for piano, orchestra and live electronics is his last completed score, and judging by what is on display in this thirty-minute monolith, one realises that the composer was reaching a new stage in his musical progress. The point may again be raised as to whether this is a concerto in the traditional meaning of the word. Though in one vast movement, the piece clearly falls into several sections although the contours are rather blurred and certainly less clear than in Forte e piano. Still, there is a hair-raising cadenza in the course of the piece. However, there are many striking differences between the two works recorded here. First, the piano playing relies on a huge range of techniques such as playing inside the piano, hitting strings with sticks and the like. Second, and this is by far the most significant difference, the use of live-electronics which enhances the sound-palette of the instrument and, combined with the orchestral sounds, creates new vistas which travel around the orchestra. (Ideally, in fact, the processed music should be heard through speakers placed around the audience. This is not possible when heard on disc, of course, but the results as heard here are quite impressive.) Incidentally, the insert notes go into some detail as to how live-electronics were elaborated and used in the process, but this is, I am afraid, a bit too much for the average listener such as the undersigned. Nevertheless, one should not think that all these 'technical considerations' obscure the strongly expressive and pulsating strength of the music which just has to be listened to. I for one find it hard to resist the propulsive drive and the extraordinary imagination displayed in these terrific pieces of music which are, no doubt about it, hard nuts to crack but definitely well worth the cracking, especially when heard in such committed performances as those here.

Hubert Culot

Previous review: Rob Barnett

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