Classical CD Reviews

PENDERECKI: Fonogrammi; The Awakening of Jacob; Anaklasis; De natura sonoris I; Partita; Horn Concerto, ‘Winterreise’ – Soloists /Warsaw Philharmonic/Antoni Wit – Naxos

A rewarding collection of some of Penderecki’s smaller works revisits traditions.

Published on August 12, 2012

PENDERECKI: Fonogrammi; The Awakening of Jacob; Anaklasis; De natura sonoris I; Partita; Horn Concerto, ‘Winterreise’ – Soloists /Warsaw Philharmonic/Antoni Wit – Naxos

KRYZSTOF PENDERECKI: Fonogrammi; The Awakening of Jacob; Anaklasis; De natura sonoris I; Partita; Horn Concerto, ‘Winterreise’ – Urszula Janik, flute/Jennifer Montone, horn/Elżbieta Stefańska, harpsich./Warsaw Philharmonic Orch./ Antoni Wit – Naxos 8.572482, 68: 53 *****:

By most standards, Kryzstof Penderecki is seen as one of the most important composers of the 20th century and, certainly, one of the most prominent composers to have emerged from Poland along with Szymanowski, Gorecki and some others. Those familiar with his music know that he has been successful with virtually every genre from chamber to opera. It is also true that his music has undergone a bit of a transformation throughout the years from the ground-breaking and strident Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima  to the dark but nearly Romantic Violin Concerto – to name but a couple of examples.

This very fine collection of works with the world class Warsaw Philharmonic showcases some of the master’s smaller scale orchestral pieces but, particularly, those in which he rediscovered or explored older and more traditional classical forms. Each piece is very well played and rewarding to listen to.

For example, Fonogrammi for flute and chamber orchestra, dates from 1961 is actually a modern take on the concertante format. Both a solo flute and the harpsichord interact with each other but in dialogue with the orchestra in a very dramatic way, featuring outbursts from the strings and percussion. Clearly this style is a bit “early” Penderecki but this is a vibrant representation of one of the composer earliest uses of an earlier form. Soloist Urszula Janik handles the appreciable demands of the flute part quite well.

The Awakening of Jacob, composed in 1974 for the Prince of Monaco, is one of the first examples of Penderecki’s “new” more Romantic style. The ominous beginning is nearly programmatic in its symbolism of the Biblical story and the ensuing brass chords, string rumblings and wind resonances are all quite moody but very tonal – an approach that would characterize much of Penderecki’s writing for the next twenty years. (Including one of the earliest examples of melodies and phrases that begin in low ascending minor seconds and falling fourths; one of the signature sounds to latter day Penderecki)

Anaklasis for strings and percussion and De natura sonoris I for orchestra both emanate from the 1960s and can be listened to as an emblematic pair. Anaklasis was striking in its use of percussion in a very prominent way. The piece was not at all modeled after the Bartok Music for strings, percussion and celesta but is considered one of the century’s great works that showcases the possibilities of strings with percussion. De natura sonoris takes similar sonorities and allows the percussion to behave in a decidedly more rhythmic way, echoing some improvisation aspects that may have come from the growing popularity of jazz. Heard as a pair, these works suggest the composer’s growing fascination with percussion as an integral orchestral timbre.

The trends established in De natura sonoris are furthered in the Partita from 1971. This incredibly unusual work features a solo harpsichord but also some very prominent electric guitar and bass guitar parts. Structurally, this work has some stylistic lineage in common with Fonogrammi  in its creation of a dramatic, also Stravinsky-like, sound in a chamber concerto format. Partita contains startling rhythmic pulsations from the strings that eventually lead to a furious harpsichord part combined with the intrusion of the very unique guitar sounds. Soloist Elżbieta Stefanska a well known Polish harpsichordist is up to the task and this should be considered one of the composer’s most important works.

This fascinating and valuable collection concludes with the Horn Concerto from 2008, clearly the most recent work represented as well. Subtitled ‘Winterreise’, this is a reference to the moods within the work; not the Schubert song cycle nor the Műller poetry – although of similar atmosphere. This wonderful and compact work is easily the most “Romantic” of the works represented here and in some ways shows what may be the next step in the ideology of Penderecki well past Threnody, past the Awakening of Jacob and even past some of his big later choral works, like the ‘Polish’ Requiem. There are moments in this piece that actually conjure up Schumann, Wagner or Barber and may cause the listener to double check who they are listening to. Soloist Jennifer Montone, principal horn with the Philadelphia Orchestra, plays very well. I believe this piece should be performed by horn players with increasingly frequency.

This disc is an essential addition to any Penderecki collection and is an important listening experience to get to know more about one of this past century’s most important composers. The Warsaw Philharmonic under conductor Antoni Wit gives strong, dedicated performances throughout. I have most of Penderecki’s music and – to Naxos and others – I still hope, fervently, that someone will work with the composer and Chicago Lyric Opera to get his 1976 Paradise Lost on disc.

—Daniel Coombs

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