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KILAR: Bogurodzica / Piano Concerto / Hoary Fog / Koscielec 1909

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Wojciech Kilar (b.1932)
Vocal and Orchestral Music
  Wojciech Kilar was born in the then Polish city of Lwow (now L'viv in Ukraine) on 17 July 1932. He studied piano and composition at the Katowice Academy from 1950 to 1955, then the State Higher Music School in Krakow until 1958. In 1957 he had attended the Darmstadt Summer School in (West) Germany, then a centre for the emerging European musical avant-garde, and during 1959-60 was a pupil of Nadia Boulanger in Paris. In 1960 his Oda Bela Bartok in memoriam received the Lili Boulanger Foundation Award, with numerous national and international prizes to follow in its wake. After a period of experimentation in the 1960s, Kilar arrived at an idiom notable for its directness of expression and immediacy of impact: an approach typified by the 1974 orchestral piece Krzesany [Naxos 8.554788]. Polish traditional sources, both sacred and secular, are often prominent, through an idiom that, in the words of the writer Adrian Thomas, has "... been variously regarded as spuriously kitsch, naively devotional or intuitively post-modern". It may be just these qualities - or the perception of them - that led to Kilar's success as a film composer, with over a hundred scores for Polish films before that for Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula won him the ASCAP Award in 1992, to be followed by a similarly acclaimed score for Roman Polanski's Death and the Maiden in 1994 [a selection from both features on Marco Polo 8.225153] and also Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady in 1996. Moreover, the vividly expressive themes and quasi-minimalist harmony characterizing these film scores are qualities equally evident in Kilar's concert output: not least the four pieces contained on the present disc. Bogurodzica (1975) is a fantasy for chorus and orchestra on the ancient Polish hymn sung in time of war and of peace (and best known in the West through its use in Sinfonia Sacra by Andrzej Panufnik). Distant taps on side-drum gradually move closer then recede, the second crescendo underpinned by a timpani roll. Halting peremptorily, the chorus fervently intones the opening lines of the text, solemnly underpinned by strings and percussion. Forceful reiteration and dissonant outbursts only add to the intensity of the setting, which unfolds as a series of repeated phrases in rhythmic unison, col legno strings and percussion to the fore. At length a suspended passage for strings and harp introduces a calm, even remote atmosphere, with the chorus intoning the final lines of the text in suitably hieratic fashion. This resolves first onto a fifth, then onto a perfect cadence, and the piece appears to be heading for a blissful conclusion, but a defiant final gesture, and the sound of side-drum once more receding into silence, leaves one in no doubt as to the music's underlying emotional fervour and ominous import. The Piano Concerto (1997) is among the most recent of Kilar's concert works and draws on sources as distinct as the Catholic liturgy and the piano concertos of Beethoven. Although cast in the traditional three movements, the opening Andante con moto is unusually subdued in its pacing and expression. It begins with the soloist repeating a gentle pattern over a static string background, with violins adding occasional melodic phrases to a texture that evolves largely through periodic modulation to other keys. As the string textures gradually fill out, so the piano writing is extended across the keyboard and dynamics increase to an apex (two-thirds through), before the music tails away in a mood of delicate regret. A downward phrase in lower strings denotes the beginning of the central Corale, with the soloist promptly introducing a solemn chorale theme that is taken up fervently by strings in rhythmic unison. Soloist and strings proceed to elaborate this theme through alternation, with the mood intensifying towards a sustained central span, in which solo strings are effectively deployed in tandem with the piano. The latter now has a cadenza, which musingly reworks aspects of the chorale up to a brief climax, before the strings re-enter with a solemn polyphony that builds in an arching crescendo of emotion. At the point of maximum intensity, the soloist heads off with a driving chordal passage that denotes the opening of the Toccata finale. Brass and strings add forcefully repeated gestures, then percussion enters for the first time in the work as the music gains inexorably in velocity. Strings now expound a chordal idea (related to the chorale of the previous movement), before the piano has a hectic solo passage, over which brass balefully intone the strings' theme and the work races to its precipitous conclusion. Siwa Mgła (1979) might be described as a vocal tone-poem, in which the texts are derived from folk sources. Softly dissonant strings gradually fan out in harmonic and textural complexity, creating an atmosphere of claustrophobic intensity. At length the baritone enters with an impassioned monologue, violin and viola echoing his phrases in ecstatic accord. Brass and timpani break in forcefully, before the baritone continues, then a striding motion across the strings changes the prevailing mood to one of trenchant resolve. Horns then trumpets bring the music to a climax of defiant repeated chords, before the solo strings heard earlier continue their ecstatic polyphony as though nothing had happened. The baritone resumes in a mood of renewed calm, with a number of discreet but effective modulations adding expressive depth to the vocal line. A brief unaccompanied vocal passage follows, and the work ends with a cadential string chord that resolves tensions from the beginning. Kościelec 1909 (1976) is another of Kilar's vividly evocative tone poems. The title itself refers to a peak in the Tatra mountains in Southern Poland, where the composer Mieczyslaw Karlowicz met his death in an avalanche while ski-ing, at the age of 32. Kilar does not portray this tragedy in narrative terms: rather he embodies it in music that serves as a commemoration of the life, and also an apotheosis of the art of Karlowicz, who at the time of his death was already the most significant Polish composer of his generation. At the outset divided lower strings create an atmosphere of sepulchral gloom, out of which an undulating idea at length emerges and is given greater definition by bassoons. This spreads across cellos and basses, with clarinets then oboes adding a rejoinder, a process repeated as the idea gradually rises through strings and woodwind respectively, with the latter becoming more dissonant on each appearance. Mid-way through the piece, brass and percussion suddenly sound out in grimly triumphal splendour, before vanishing to leave the timpani and basses in an unexpected vacuum. Vicious tattoo-like outbursts on trumpets and side-drum intervene, then the music gathers itself in a powerful motion, and utilising a much augmented version of the undulating idea heard near the beginning, towards a climax (one that recalls the extemporised procedures of Penderecki) which distils the prevailing mood into one of bitter majesty. This breaks off, leaving strings to descend back into the depths from which they began. Out of this, however, a brief crescendo rises to end the work on a note of curt defiance. Richard Whitehouse   Sung texts are available online at
Disc: 1
Koscielec 1909
1 Bogurodzica (Mother of God)
2 I. Andante con moto
3 II. Corale
4 III. Toccata
5 Siwa mgla (Hoary Fog)
6 Koscielec 1909
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