PENDERECKI: “Works” = Polymorphia; Anaklasis; Fluorescences; Tren; Intermezzo; Kosmogonia – Antoni Wit, cond. – Naxos (double vinyl)

KRZYSTOF PENDERECKI: “Works” = Polymorphia; Anaklasis; Fluorescences; Tren (Threnody); Intermezzo; Kosmogonia – Warsaw Philharmonic Orch./ Warsaw Philharmonic Choir/ Polish Nat. Radio Sym./Antoni Wit – Naxos Records NAC-LP002-03, 2 vinyl LPs (11/19/13), ***1/2:

Krzystof Penderecki will be remembered as one of the most important and influential voices of the twentieth century. His music, especially his earlier output; such as the works heard here – provided inspiration to a number of younger composers from a variety of origins including Jacob Druckman, Henryk Gorecki and even some of the Scandinavian post-modernists.

His style did evolve a great deal, though. Listeners only familiar with “late” Penderecki, such as his Violin Concerto, the opera, Paradise Lost or the “Polish” Requiem, may be a bit jarred by these earlier, sound effects-laden thorny works. Penderecki was one of the first composers in the post-serialist vein to experiment with dense cluster harmonies, unusual orchestral effects and bizarre orchestrations. And, yet, the sound is not necessarily harsh or unpleasant; but it is strange to be sure.

This collection contains some of the most important of these early works and conductor Antoni Wit has really studied Penderecki and has recorded much of his music and always very successfully and with true understanding.

Listeners may find some of the works more intriguing than others. Personally, I found Fluorescences, from 1961, fascinating with its sawing wood in the percussion section, manual typewriters clacking away to the sides of the orchestra (readers under fifty: I apologize if you have no idea what I’m talking about!) and parchment paper being crinkled. The fairly well known Threnody, from 1960, contains large masses of sound, cluster chords and string effects that sound like the instruments are being tested nearly to the point of breaking.

What is also really intriguing about Penderecki’s writing is that, for the most part, the scores and parts are fully notated and he had to create special symbols for some of the extended string techniques, such as on the bridge, near the tailpiece or as high as possible. One more interesting and important aspect to this collection is that the six works herein all come from approximately the same time period. Polymorphia for forty-eight strings, from 1961; Anaklasis for strings and percussion is from 1960; Fluorescences from 1961, Tren (Threnody) from 1960; Intermezzo and Kosmogonia all from the early 1960s.

This collection can be had on CDs or on the present two-LP audiophile vinyl. The sound here is really good and the vinyl is very good, heavier weight and responds very much even on modest equipment. I use – for now – new stock Ortofon cartridges.

Naxos always produces a great product and this collection – indeed; these works – needs to be heard. From a marketing point of view, though, I do have one small gripe. The complete absence of any liner notes or history is an impediment especially for the younger listener who did not have to learn these pieces during college (different subject…).  I looked up what I didn’t already know but I really fear that the younger music student might not see anything on or in the packaging to peak the interest in the way that this wonderful set truly deserves. As David Hurwitz in Classics Today says, “Antoni Wit’s ongoing cycle of Penderecki orchestral works is yet another of those truly outstanding Naxos projects that’s unlikely to get the attention it deserves.”

—Daniel Coombs


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