PENDERECKI: Piano Concerto ‘Resurrection’; Concerto for Flute and Chamber Orchestra – Barry Douglas, p./ Lukasz Dlugosz, flute/ Warsaw Philharmonic Orch./Antoni Wit – Naxos 8.572696, 60:30 ****:
The 80-year-old Krzysztof Penderecki now composes works that synthesize his avante-garde innovations of the 1960’s (Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima), with religious themes (St. Luke Passion), and Romanticism (Violin Concerto No. 1). Although his oeuvre is heavily weighted by orchestral and choral works, he has written several concertos and three string quartets. The most recent, String Quartet No 3, is a very significant addition to the 21st century chamber music repertoire (recently reviewed by me in these pages).
The Piano Concerto (2001-2)—significantly revised in 2007—is a 37-minute work in the Russian ‘grand concerto’ tradition of Rachmaninov and Prokofiev. It’s in one movement with ten sections, and employs a huge orchestra with triple wind and extensive percussion. The title ‘Resurrection’ refers to the plainsong-like melody that emerges at the end of the work. That theme refers to the date of the original version, written after the 9/11 tragedy and is another musical expression of Penderecki’s strong religious beliefs.
This is a sprawling Russian inspired, dramatic and creatively-orchestrated piano concerto. Born from the piano concertos of Rachmaninov, Shostakovich and Prokofiev, it extends their dramatic impact with ostinato-like passages of the lower strings (the Fugato of the Allegro – 9th January of Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony), interludes of wistful, Bach-like melodic beauty, striking passages of conflict between piano and orchestra, and a brief joyful and wacky passage reminiscent of the Shostakovich Piano Concertos. It’s a feast of contrasting moods, and huge orchestral moments underpinned by a persistent rhythmic invention that sustains dramatic interest over its 37-minute length. It’s the kind of work that would make a huge impact in a live concert performance. Pianist Barry Douglas gives an electrifying performance and the reliable Antoni Wit draws an energetic performance from the Warsaw Philharmonic.
The Flute Concerto (1993) is scored for chamber orchestra, with dramatically changing moods, colorful orchestration, melodic fragments, pointed dialogues between the flute and other woodwinds, and a rhythmic buoyancy that sustains interest throughout its 23 minute work. Flutist Lukasz Dlugosz plays with high spirits and brilliance.
Both of these concertos exhibit an effective integration of many styles that is so typical of many contemporary works. The performances effectively convey their diversity and impact and the sound clarifies the depth and range of Penderecki’s music.