Tuesday 26 March 2013

Penderecki’s beautiful and powerful Piano Concerto and his equally attractive Flute Concerto on a new release from Naxos

‘I think I have always written very personal music. I have never concerned myself with what was just fashionable…’ So said Krzystof Penderecki (b. 1933) in 1993. Penderecki became very much a part of the musical avant-garde in the 1960s with such works as Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960) and his first opera The Devils of Loudon (1968/69) but, from his First Violin Concerto (1976-77, revised 1987), he made, in his own words, what was a ‘synthesis’ of his earlier more radical style with traditional forms. Focusing on two melodic intervals, the semitone and the triton, this shift in musical style brought criticism from many quarters.

The son of a lawyer, Penderecki was born in Debica, in south eastern Poland. He studied composition with Artur Malewski and Stanislas Wiechowicz (1893-1963) at the Krakow Academy of Music where, in 1958, he was appointed as a professor. It was his Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960) that brought him world-wide fame but it was his St. Luke Passion (1963–66) that was central to his work, combining as it does intense expressive force with archaic elements alluding to Bach.

Penderecki has, to date, written four operas, eight symphonies (the sixth of which is still incomplete), many choral works including a Stabat Mater, a Polish Requiem, and, of course, the St Luke Passion, numerous orchestral works, chamber works including two string quartets, instrumental works and concertos for violin (two), viola, cello (two), flute, clarinet, horn and piano

Naxos www.naxos.com have just released a new recording of his large scale Piano Concerto ‘Resurrection’ (2001/02 revised 2007) and his Concerto for Flute and Chamber Orchestra (1992) with Barry Douglas (piano) www.barry-douglas.com, Lukasz Dlugosz (flute) www.sankyoflute.com/e/players/lukasz.html and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra www.filharmonia.pl/start.en.html conducted by Antoni Wit www.icartists.co.uk/artists/antoni-wit

Penderecki’s Piano Concerto ‘Resurrection’ is a colossal work in ten movements played without a break. The opening allegro molto sosentuto has an incisive theme on the lower strings that is soon joined by percussion before the piano enters, echoing the theme. The full orchestra joins in an energetic theme with piano, the orchestra making swirls in a descending motif. The music begins to ease but still there are occasional outbursts. The momentum increases again, leading to a climax, with runs up the piano, until the music suddenly quietens into the adagio with dark sounds in the orchestra and a solo cor anglais, beautiful but stark. When the piano enters again it is in a simple upward motif with the orchestra reflecting on the theme. There are some lovely piano phrases as this movement progresses. A kind of trio section emerges, light and gentle, before the more animated allegro arrives.

Percussion becomes more dominant in the allegro moderato molto third movement, with muted brass and woodwind, leading to the adagio, full of delicate piano arabesques. The allegretto capriccioso brings shrill outbursts from the orchestra with the piano playing a rapid theme as the music bounces forward, full of action. The sixth movement, marked grave, opens with a short piano solo before the full orchestra enters in massive short bursts. A hushed section follows where the piano gently plays over the theme. The orchestra is hushed, but, as it joins the piano theme, it grows more animated, with tubular bells, before a kind of brass chorale is heard with dissonant piano chords. There is another short section for solo piano before the orchestra enters, followed by the piano, in a lovely melody before leading to a loud climax which is cut short as the allegro sostenuto molto appears.

There are rapid piano phrases interspersed with percussion before the lower strings enter in short, insistent phrases, followed by the upper strings, woodwind and brass, steadily driving forward in Prokofiev like rhythms. This builds to a tremendously powerful climax with a fiendishly difficult part for the piano, phenomenally played by Barry Douglas, ever more driving ahead into the andante maestoso. The music peaks in an enormous climax with cascading piano phrases until percussion loudly sounds an end and the music falls hushed with the piano playing quietly over dark orchestral sounds. A brief cadenza leads to a magisterial, loud climax for full orchestra with the piano playing vast chords over the top, leading to the arrival of a huge array of percussion before the allegro molto sostenuto. There are insistent piano phrases before the orchestra enters with the piano playing the Prokofiev like phrases. Eventually all quietens as the final movement opens with heavy sounding orchestra that heaves along behind the cascading chords of the piano. The music settles to a repeat of the beautiful melody heard earlier. Suddenly the orchestra bursts out, joined by the piano in ascending scales before a wonderful climax ensues, leading to a resolute ending.

This is a wonderful concerto full of beauty, power and forward momentum. Barry Douglas is absolutely phenomenal, giving the work a tremendous performance, as does the Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit. Surely this is one of Penderecki’s finest works.

After the Piano Concerto, Penderecki’s Concerto for Flute and Chamber Orchestra is the absolute antithesis. The andante opens with a playful little clarinet solo before the other woodwind join in a flurry of playing. The flute enters in a solo passage before the orchestra enters, echoing the theme. After the orchestra develops the material the flute again enters in another solo passage with some lovely flights of fancy. Eventually drums accompany the flute melody before strings join with the flute in a descending motif dropping to the lower strings before the flute then ascends again with the orchestra leading straight into the second movement più animato, signalled by a solo trumpet.

The trumpet is soon joined by the orchestra in this lighter section before the flute joins in as the theme is bounced around. The sound darkens a little in the orchestra, before the flute re-appears briefly, the orchestra then working over the material leading to the andante where the flute re-joins to re-iterate a descending motif with orchestra. This sad, mournful descending theme is passed around the woodwind. Suddenly the flute and orchestra sound out as the music becomes more agitated but soon the music drops back to the mournful sound, fading until the allegro con brio opens with insistent drum stokes and short phrases from the orchestra.

The music settles as the flute enters with some lovely tongued sounds with the percussion still providing texture. This leads to the appearance of a solo clarinet soon joined by the flute. Scurrying orchestral and flute phrases lead to a cadenza for the flute. The fifth movement vivo leads straight from the cadenza, to a dialogue between flute, percussion and orchestra. There is some terrific flute playing here from Lukasz Dlugosz. Soon the music quietens with a lovely flute melody before the cor anglais joins with flute and orchestra in a strikingly beautiful melody full of haunting emotion; surely one of Penderecki’s most beautiful creations. Finally, tubular bells sound for the last orchestral chord to end.

This is a very attractive work with many very beautiful passages. The performance from Lukasz Dlugosz, with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under Antoni Wit, is wonderful. The recordings made at Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw are first rate and, with excellent notes from Richard Whitehouse, this new release is highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Just listening to it for the first time. Strange it had a poor reception at first, it is really beautiful. should be in the mainstream repatoire.