Wednesday 10 June 2015

Naxos bring a very welcome addition to the catalogue with their new release of Penderecki’s Magnificat and Kadisz, works of great power and emotion in very fine performances from Antoni Wit and his forces

Krzystof Penderecki (b. 1933)  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. 

Penderecki’s St Luke’s Passion (1965-66) was a landmark piece counted by many as among the most significant compositions in new music. Other choral works followed, but by the time he wrote his Magnificat in 1973-74 he had begun to formulate a style that combined his earlier avant-garde techniques with a more traditional post romantic idiom.

A new release from Naxos  couples Penderecki’s Magnificat with his more recent Kadisz highlighting the fact that, despite his move away from his earlier avant-garde style the composer has maintained consistent underlying fingerprints. 

The Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra , Warsaw Philharmonic Male Choir and the Warsaw Boys’ Choir  are conducted by Antoni Wit with Wojciech Gierlach (bass) , Olga Pasichnyk (soprano) , Alberto Mizrahi (tenor) and Daniel Olbrychski (speaker) and a male vocal ensemble consisting of tenor Jakub Burzyński, Mariusz Cyciura and Tomasz Warmijak; and basses Marek Wota and Przemysław Żywczok.

In six sections, the first part of the Magnificat (1973–74), Magnificat anima mea, opens on a sustained note before the orchestra develops a gently expanding passage before returning to a single note as the choir enters on the word Magnificat. The orchestra broadens before the choir again intones Magnificat with the orchestral textures and instrumentation developing more richness and colours as the choir lead on with some lovely dissonances; Penderecki at his brilliant best. Deep timpani beats over double basses lead into the second part, Fuga. Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae where the male vocal ensemble and choir bring some disturbing, yet very fine harmonies and dissonances in this spectacularly written piece.  The voices rise and fall in wails before an instrumental section where a myriad of instrumental sounds mingle in a riot of orchestral colours. The choir continues over wailings from the male vocal ensemble, with interjections from brass, woodwind and strings. The layering of vocal and instrumental textures are wonderfully, if unusually, done. Towards the end there are some spectacularly fine choral passages before a beautifully hushed coda.

The sounds Penderecki achieves from his strings and high woodwind are truly lovely in the Et misericordia eius, bringing an other-worldly sound. The choir enters with some very fine controlled singing in Penderecki’s exceptionally difficult intervals and phrases, beautifully done before unsettled strings lead into the fourth section, Fecit Potentiam, where bass, Wojtek Gierlach arrives bringing a fine depth of tone as the orchestra rises in drama. There are moments of extreme intensity with Antoni Wit holding a fine balance of emotion and drama.  

Deep chords from double basses open the Passacaglia. Deposuit potentes de sede over which other strings add textures. The chorus enters bringing their own fine textures over the rhythmic basses before the music falls to a hush. It rises again in the orchestra with the choir coming in over them. Wit keeps the anticipation all the time as orchestra and choir bring sudden interjections, lightened a little by the children’s choir. However, the chorus soon bring some thrillingly alarming sounds before speaking the words et divites dimisit inanes (and sent the rich away empty-handed). The music falls quieter underpinned by lower strings and timpani as the choir leads forward but it is the hushed strings and quiet timpani that lead into the final section, Sicut locutus est where the chorus enters alone in a hushed magical passage on the words Sicut locutus est (As he spoke), slowly adding layers.

Here Penderecki provides some beautifully subtle vocal textures and colours before the children’s choir brings some especially fine moments. There is a terrific outburst on the words Gloria Patri (Glory be to the Father) with some brilliant outpourings of choral sounds. Later the male vocal ensemble add some fine textures before the orchestra rises up full of terrific colours and textures. The chorus rejoin as do the vocal ensemble in a swirl of textures leading to a loud tonal outburst for chorus and orchestra. The orchestra and choir heads dramatically forward until all falls to a hush and a rather anxious Amen ends the work quietly.

What a wonderful work Penderecki’s Magnificat is. Just as with their previous recordings of this composer’s works, Antoni Wit and his forces provide very fine performances. 

Kadisz (Kaddish) (2009) was commissioned to mark the 65th anniversary of the liquidation of the city of Łódź’s Jewish ghetto and was premiered there on 29th August 2009 conducted by the composer. Szła śmierć od mogiły do mogiły: Tempo di marcia funebre opens with a rather menacing slow orchestral plod before soprano, Olga Pasichnyk enters on the words Szła śmierć od mogiły do mogiły (Death walked from grave to grave). This soprano has a fine voice full of intense feeling. An orchestral passage follows bringing a subdued drama before leading to a less tense, more flowing section to which the soprano joins. Penderecki’s orchestration is wonderful as he conjures such melancholy. Soon the orchestra sounds a note of caution before the soprano rises on the word Odejdź! (Go away!) before moving, full of intense emotion, to a climactic coda, brilliantly sung. 

The orchestra introduces a dramatic second movement, Leży na ziemi po ulicach dziecię, i starzec: Grave, senza misura (The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets) soon joined by speaker, Daniel Olbrychski who brings an intensity, character and impact to the part, over a dramatic orchestral accompaniment. Such is the emotion that one hardly notices that he is not singing. The Warsaw Philharmonic Male Choir add to the impact before the music falls to a plaintive clarinet passage with hushed timpani beats. 

Male chorus alone opens Prosimy cię, abyś nas na wieki nie wydawał: Molto tranquillo (Deliver us up for ever, we beseech thee) bringing some fine overlaid textures in this hushed, withdrawn sequence. One can hear the connection with Penderecki’s earlier choral works, with subtle dissonances now rather than the overtly dissonant music of his earlier works. It rises in power before falling to a beautifully hushed coda.

Jitgadal wejitkadasz szmeh raba. Amen: Senza misura (May His great Name become exalted and sanctified) brings tenor, Alberto Mizrahi, opening as Cantor over a static, hushed orchestra with occasional choral interventions before rising in passion at the words and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel. The chorus take over before Alberto Mizrahi brings some beautifully controlled singing in this lovely section moving through some moments of fine emotional impact before leading to a more settled Amen. 

This is a very welcome addition to the catalogue bringing works of great power and emotion in very fine performances from Antoni Wit and his forces. They receive a very fine recording from the Witold Lutosławski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, Warsaw (Magificat) and at Warsaw Philharmonic Hall (Kadisz). There are informative booklet notes as well as full Latin and Polish texts and English translations. 

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