PENDERECKI: Symphony No. 8; Dies Irae; Aus den Psalmen Davids – Antoni Wit, conductor/ Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra – Naxos
PENDERECKI: Symphony No. 8; Dies Irae; Aus den Psalmen Davids – Antoni Wit, conductor/ Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra – Naxos 8.570450, 72 minutes ****:
Krzysztof Penderecki has written his second choral symphony in a row and this time it’s a secular one (with brief religiosity). He bases his text on several different poets: the nature-worshiping Joseph von Eichendorff, the angelic Rainer Maria Rilke, the misanthropic Karl Kraus, the alienated Hermann Hesse, the redoubtable Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the arch-romantic Achim von Arnim. These poets have displayed mystical or pantheistic strains in their poetry from time to time, which may explain Penderecki’s attraction to them. Musically, the Symphony No. 8 holds together as a post-romantic work, a shotgun marriage between Gustav Mahler and Dimitry Shostakovich. (Achim von Arnim even wrote Des Knaben Wunderhorn, later adapted to lieder by Mahler.) Penderecki’s music is intense here, yet less mannered and shocking than his earlier choral works. That doesn’t mean he avoids innovative and startling effects. Ende des Herbstes, for example, features eerie high register flutes and Sag’ ich’s euch, geliebte Baume spotlights a flighty soprano who screeches rhythmically while relating a dream “in the red of morning.” A forlorn Mahlerian horn invades the second occurrence of Ende des Herbstes, but the best occurs in the last bars: a frightening choral ascent, slightly dissonant, accompanied by the words “the spirit in God expands/Endless is the path!”
Rounding off this disc is a fine performance of the composer’s modernistic Dies irae (a tribute to the victims of fascism). Be prepared for chatty Sprechstimme, human/ woodwind screams, sirens, and twittering crescendos. The earliest piece, Aus den Psalmen Davids, is a nine minute) choral work with striking rhythms and a reverential—and emphatic– supplication as finale. There is no included text in the booklet. You must visit the Naxos web site for that, so fire up your PDF reader. Even then, there is no text for the Dies irae—do they assume everyone knows it by heart? A pity, it would have been such fun to try to follow.
— Peter Bates