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Krzysztof PENDERECKI (1933-2020)
String Quartet No 1 (1960) [6:43]
String Quartet No 2 (1968) [8:53]
Der Unterbrochene Gedanke (1988) [2:10]
Quartet for clarinet and string trio (1993) [14:54]
String Quartet No 3 ‘Leaves of an unwritten diary’ (2008) [17:14]
String Quartet No 4 (2016) [6:10]
Silesian String Quartet
Piotr Szymyślik (clarinet)
rec. 2012/21, Concert Hall of the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music, Katowice, Poland

Not very long ago, I gave a most enthusiastic review of the recent Naxos (8.574288 - review) recording of the complete Penderecki Quartets, by the Tippetts. It is therefore a delight to receive a no less fine CD of the same works by the remarkable Silesian Quartet. These are extraordinary works, and, like all great music, are open to a variety of legitimate interpretations, giving new and rewarding insights.

Like the Tippetts, the Silesian Quartet rightly present the quartets in order of composition. Penderecki’s style continually developed, from the sometimes aggressive modernism of the early works, to the more evident lyricism of the later. It sometimes seems as if the development is from the terse and laconic to the more lyrical, but that rather oversimplifies the continuities: the fascination with the timbre of the moment, as a sort of vertical axis, and the discipline of not permitting an idea to outstay its welcome.

For many, the choice between the two recordings will come down to a decision on the coupling. The Tippetts opt for the two-movement String Trio, from 1990 (revised 1991), a delightful work, thoroughly tonal, with a sunny mood throughout its thirteen-minute span. On the other hand, the Silesian Quartet have interpreted ‘complete’ as including the Quartet for Clarinet and String Trio. Its mood overall is perhaps darker than that of the String Trio, but its four movements are deeply moving with moments of breath-taking beauty, admirably realised here.

The new disc is more closely recorded than the Naxos, but there is great warmth to the sound picture, with immaculate phrasing and detail (and the occasional faint grunt). Intensity and concentration are hallmarks of the Silesian and Tippett Quartets, and we are in debt to both.

On balance, I place the Silesian Quartet the winner by a nose rather than a short head, but would be without neither sets of performances: I shall return to both, very often. Those contemplating purchase could perhaps be most swayed by the couplings.

Let us hope these great works appear more often on our concert platforms.

Michael Wilkinson

Previous review: Dominy Clements

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