PENDERECKI: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2

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Krzysztof Penderecki (b.1933)

Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1

‘Metamorphosen’ Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 2

Krzystof Penderecki’s First Symphony (1973) (Naxos 8.554567) brought to a climax his involvement with the post-war European avant-garde. Already in his Magnificat (1974) and tone poem Jacob’s Awakening (1975) the emphasis is on an expression with its harmonic roots in the late nineteenth century sound world of Wagner and Bruckner. This transition was completed with the First Violin Concerto (1974-6), commissioned by the Allgemeine Musikgesellschaft of Basle, which caused considerable controversy in new music circles following its première on 27th April 1977 by Isaac Stern, to whom it is dedicated, with the Basle Symphony Orchestra and Moshe Atzmon. The composer’s stated response, that "We can still use old forms to make new music", was to become almost a motto as symphonies and concertos moved to the forefront of his creative output.

Although originally planned as a multi-movement work, the First Violin Concerto was eventually realised as a single-movement span, though vestiges of the initial conception are detectable in the frequent changes of mood and pace. Over heaving basses and timpani, the basic musical material emerges effortfully on strings, subsiding into the musing of clarinet and violas. Against this backdrop the soloist appears, elaborating the ideas heard so far into an upward-striving melodic sequence. Tension spills over into a funereal idea on strings and timpani, over which the soloist spins a more lyrical, though still impassioned cantilena, before ebbing away to a sighing motion in strings. A powerful orchestral tutti now develops, trombones and timpani urging the music to a jagged outburst, before the soloist introduces a more capricious mood. Agitated strings slither around chromatically, until the soloist alights on a held chord, and the music attains some degree of stability. Over pulsating strings, the soloist builds the most sustained outpouring so far, before the held chord reappears on strings. Brass sound a plangent response, and the soloist drives the music to a climactic peak. The capricious music now briefly returns, presaging a Shostakovich-like ‘scherzo’ section over repeated percussion rhythms. This is curtailed by the funereal music, to which the soloist responds in suitably plangent terms. A more pensive, even resigned section ensues, culminating in an eerie passage of solo trills against high-lying strings, woodwind and harp. A driving toccata motion bursts in, petering out in the face of the funereal music, before a sudden tutti outburst initiates the concerto’s cadenza. This sums up most of the soloist’s melodic ideas, interrupted briefly when the scherzo music steals back in. The toccata motion ends the cadenza, and the concerto’s climax is reached with baleful brass writing. The soloist winds down the tension into a bleak and comfortless epilogue, solo viola and basses in muted support, and the ending is reached.

The compositional technique of metamorphosis, transforming motifs and melodic ideas as the music progresses, is central to this work as it is to most of Penderecki’s orchestral works over the next quarter of a century. Metamorphosen is, indeed, the title of his Second Violin Concerto (1992-5), commissioned by Central German Radio, and first performed by its orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons, with Anne-Sophie Mutter, to whom the concerto is dedicated. Again a large single movement falls into several continuous sections, now with a greater differentiation of tempo and orchestration.

The work opens with an oscillating motion on strings, resounding gong strokes adding to the sense of mystery. The solo violin takes up the prevailing harmonic motion, climbing to the top of its register. A brief, Brucknerian tutti subsides, then momentum increases with a rhythmic idea on violas, joined by other strings and woodwind, then by the soloist. This vigorous contrapuntal activity continues unabated, until dissipated by a held chord in the strings. A more lyrical discourse now sets in, austere in scoring, but touched by some imaginative percussion writing. The soloist muses pensively with the clarinet, then suddenly spirals to an impassioned tutti outburst. An angular fugal passage leads to a repeated chord sequence with tubular bells and gong, after which the lyrical discourse is resumed with poignant accompaniment from woodwind. A toccata-like motion now asserts itself on violas and percussion, over which the soloist strikes a pose of nonchalant defiance. This builds intently to a further held chord, cellos ushering in a plaintive passage for the solo violin at the top of its register, against a shimmer of strings and percussion. Tension increases, the soloist sounding agitated as the music moves through a spiky and often dance-like passage, replete with pizzicato and sul ponticello writing. Rhythmic energy increases, curtailed by the cadenza, which exploits the soloist’s technical capacity to the full. The dance motion strikes back in, but a tutti chord puts paid to the momentum, and a ghostly passage for the soloist over basses and timpani, filling out with woodwind contributions, proceeds to bring the concerto to its brief but impassioned climax and final resolution, bells and gong strokes shrouding these fatalistic closing pages in an aura of uncertainty. Not so bleak as the close of the First Concerto, then, but hardly affirmative in its demeanour.

Richard Whitehouse

Item number 8555265
Barcode 747313526529
Release date 02/01/2003
Category Violin
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Kulka, Konstanty Andrzej
Kulka, Konstanty Andrzej
Composers Penderecki, Krzysztof
Penderecki, Krzysztof
Conductors Wit, Antoni
Wit, Antoni
Orchestras Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Producers Jankowska, Beata
Jankowska, Beata
Disc: 1
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 2, "Metamorp
1 Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 1
2 Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 2, "Metamorp
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