PENDERECKI: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 5 (Antoni Wit/ Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.554567)
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Orchestral Works Vol.
Symphonies Nos. 1& 5
Although Krysztof Penderecki has long been recognized for his operas (TheDevils of Loudun, 1969; Paradise Lost, 1978; The Black Mask, 1986;Ubu, 1991) and large-scale choral works (St Luke Passion, 1965; Utrenja,1971; Te Deum, 1979; Polish Requiem, 1984 and Credo, 1998),recognition as a symphonic writer came belatedly. This is partly because upuntil the early 1970s, the immediacy and physicality of his orchestral workswas paralleled by their general brevity (the three pieces accompanying SymphonyNo. 3 on Volume 1 of this series [Naxos 8.554491] exemplify thesequalities). Yet as the First Symphony proves, the gestural nature of hisearlier music was susceptible to a considerable degree of long-term,'symphonic' development.
Symphony No. 1, in four continuous sections, was commissioned by thePeterborough firm of Perkins Engines, and first performed there in 1973 by theLondon Symphony Orchestra and the composer. Surprise at the source of thecommission went hand in hand with (false) speculation that the opening pageswere a recreation of sounds heard at an actual engineering plant. Indeed theopening of Arche I [track 2] is as scintillating as it is memorable: astriking accumulation of percussion patterns, culminating in wailing brass Twocrucial ideas now emerge a walking motion in the lower strings (2'32");and the note A held ominously by the horns (4'18"), leading into thelongest section, Dynamis I [track 3]. Despite interjections from upperstrings (the extraordinary 'tuning' passage at 2'49") brass andpercussion, 'A' remains a fixed presence on the musical landscape. Stringseffect a gradual climax (from 10'34"), before coalescing around A and aprolonged fade-out, broken by the robust Stravinskian chords of Dynamis II [track4]. This is the symphony's scherzo, playful and often hectic. A series ofsnatched silences stops the music in its tracks and prepares for the climacticonslaught (6'17"). Against pounding timpani and bass drum, frantic soundserrupt from woodwind and brass, only to collapse into a return of the 'walkingmotion' in lower strings, and the concluding Arche II [track 5]. Amidrecollections of earlier events, and ghostly reminders of those initial percussionpatterns, the symphony winds down to a series of A's in the double basses, withwhich it ends.
At the time the First Symphony was premi?¿red, Penderecki wasquoted as saying that his compositional style over the previous 15 years hadreached a natural conclusion, and that he was tempted to seek a new language inthe electronic studio. The stylistic shift which took place, though musically agood deal more conservative, was prophetic of the move away from Modernism thatinfluenced many European and American composers over the following decade.
Works such as his second symphony,the Christmas Symphony, deal unashamedly with a 'neo-romantic' tonallanguage rooted in the soundworld of Wagner and Bruckner. As the 1980sprogressed, however, elements of irony and parody became apparent, alongwith a vivid and hard-hitting orchestration that owes something to the exampleof Shostakovich; a composer Penderecki has conducted on numerous occasions.
Symphony No. 5 waspremi?¿red in Seoul in 1992, and a Korean folksong threads its way unobtrusivelythrough the lower strings at certain points. Penderecki again favours a singlemovement, although, unlike his second and fourth symphonies [both heard onNaxos 8.554492], the strongly-drawn contrast between slower and faster sectionsgives the work a greater dynamic charge. The opening features intense repeatedchords in the violas and mournful descending sequences in the upper strings,ideas that will return often. Violas launch an animated fugal motion(4'54"), with pungent interjections from brass and percussion, as themusic escalates to a brief climax, before relapsing into the depths. The solohorn now inaugurates a procession over funereal strings and tolling bells(10'18"), before the 'scherzo' emerges with whirring strings and rapidwoodwind phrases. Clamourous brass and grinding string chords lead to a quirky'trio' (16'32"), in which a martial theme is passed between instrumentswith a very Shostakovich-like irony. The scherzo material returns, leading to aforceful climax, after which cellos and oboes create a lachrymose mood. Atlength, the violas' fugal writing returns to propel the work to its main climax(29'33"), with brass sounding Mahlerian clarion calls across the wholeorchestra. Plaintive responses from the oboe and cor anglais prepare for thereturn of the horn's battle-weary lament, while the opening ideas are recalledin what promises to be a valedictory leave-taking. But aggressive strings usherin a brief coda (35'12"), with F hammered out relentlessly: the effect isconclusive, far from triumphal and typical of the mature Penderecki.