PENDERECKI Piano Concerto, “Resurrection.” Flute Concerto • Barry Douglas (pn); ?ukasz D?ugosz (fl); Antoni Wit, cond; Warsaw PO • NAXOS 8.572696 (60:30)
It is fascinating to trace the development of Penderecki’s compositional style, as he seems to become more conservative the older he gets. The Piano Concerto, composed in 2001/02 and revised in 2007, is a work that the Penderecki of the 1960s and the Threnody for the VictimsRead more of Hiroshima probably never dreamed of writing. In fact, nothing in Penderecki’s canon, not even his recent works, prepared me for this concerto. After several auditions, I’m not sure it’s even a successful work (I’ve seen the adjective “kitschy” applied to it), but if it’s not, it is, in today’s popular terminology, a hot mess, and a fascinating one at that.
In this work, Penderecki has channeled the romantic piano concerto. In the words of annotator Richard Whitehouse, it renews “Penderecki’s direct involvement with the ‘grand’ concerto tradition—notably of the Russian lineage that had its culmination in Rachmaninov and Prokofiev.” Granted, the work is not as lyrical as, for example, Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, or even Prokofiev’s Third, but there’s no missing the size and the strength of the emotional gestures, and the respect for virtuosic display. For the first time ever (in my experience, anyway), Penderecki has even included passages that a reasonable person might describe as “pretty”—for example, at 2:30 into the second section, and that passage returns near the end. (The work is in 10 continuous sections, and Naxos has tracked them separately.) Granted, the concerto’s overall mood is more tense than pretty, and there are violent climaxes. I have to say, though, that the music that kept coming to mind as I heard this concerto was Bernard Herrmann’s Concerto Macabre, a work that he composed for the 1954 film noir Hangover Square—and I intend that as a compliment. “Resurrection,” the concerto’s subtitle might be understood as a Christian reference, but apparently it is not meant to be taken too literally. Whitehouse indicates, however, that a “plainsong-like idea (which was conceived in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack) . . . only gradually makes its way into the foreground before emerging at full strength during the climactic stages.” Barry Douglas, whose name now comes up less often than it did at the start of the CD era, plays the heck out of this 37-minute concerto, and does not stint on its steel, drama, and emotional power. The engineering, by the way, is outstanding—this is a sonic showpiece. I’d be interested to hear an earlier recording (on Dux), conducted by the composer, with pianist Beata Bili?ska.
The Flute Concerto dates from 1992, and is more in line with what we have come to expect from latter-day Penderecki. It is, in other words, an anticlimax to the piano concerto, but worthwhile nevertheless. Like the piano concerto, it is a single-movement work, but that single movement contains several clearly contrasted sections. If the piano concerto is unexpectedly emotional, the flute concerto is in keeping with the composer’s familiar style, which I would describe as intellectual and objective, gaining its interest from the way in which Penderecki develops his material, and creates interesting instrumental timbres. The word “eclectic” keeps coming up, which I suppose is another way of saying that the music is modern, but not too modern. It was composed for Jean-Pierre Rampal, who did record it, with the composer, for Sony, but I have not heard that version. There’s also another Dux disc, with the composer conducting, and flutist David Aguilar, but the version I know, also on Naxos, is with flutist Petri Alanko and the Tapiola Sinfonietta, conducted by Okko Kamu. Alanko and Kamu pare more than three minutes from the score’s total length. Their reading is more dramatic than the new one, and Alanko emphasizes the lyrical aspects of the music more than Dlugosz does, wherever he can. Compared to Wit, Kamu is more precise, and creates more focused sonorities with his ensemble, but I do like the lush sound that comes out of the Warsaw Philharmonic, and I feel that Wit is a superior story-teller to Kamu.
Although neither of these works is new to CD, the combination is unique, and the performances are very strong. I see no reason not to be enthusiastic about this release, and the piano concerto is growing on me. Let’s see if this makes it onto my Want List in the next issue!
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Penderecki wrote his Piano Concerto, subtitled “Resurrection”, in 2001/02 and revised it in 2007. It was premiered in this latest version by Barry Douglas, who plays it with proprietary zeal. It’s a fabulous addition to the repertoire, a grand piece nearly 40 minutes’ long in a single movement divided into 10 subsections. The thematic material is very strongly profiled: a driving march eventually gives way to a massive chorale that emerges tentatively about midway through the work. How wonderful it is that Penderecki not only has rediscovered the joy of melody, but has the imagination to write really good ones. His scoring is also stunning, and it goes without saying that Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic do him proud.
The Flute Concerto is an earlier work, from 1992, and compared to the Piano Concerto it’s a bit of a letdown. Despite excellent playing from Lukasz Dlugosz, the work itself has a rather dry character, abetted by mostly atonal tunes and jumpy rhythms that, however well written for the instrument, fail to engage the way the piano concerto does. Although it is arrestingly scored for chamber orchestra, and it only lasts 23 minutes, it’s not a piece that you will likely return to often. Still, for the piano concerto alone this well engineered disc is an important, indeed mandatory acquisition for collectors of first-rate contemporary music.
Concerto for Piano "Resurrection"by Krzysztof Penderecki Performer:
Barry Douglas (Piano)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 2001-2002
Concerto for Fluteby Krzysztof Penderecki Performer:
Lukasz Dlugasz (Flute)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1992; Poland
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
A Long Way From ThrenodyOctober 10, 2013By E. Barnes (Herndon, VA)See All My Reviews"Perhaps you know Penderecki from his 1960's hit, the hair-raising Threnody on the Victims of Hiroshima. Or you may know him from the massive soundscapes that followed soon after. If that's the extent, you'll be surprised at what he's been doing lately -- Romantic-like music full of emotional gesture. Sure it gets violent here and there, but as modern music it is relatively, well... tame. But as with all fine modern composers, no matter what they touch, they bring their genius along for the ride. Have no fear, Penderecki's genius is still intact. This is a highly enjoyable CD. Performances and recorded sound are more or less perfect."Report Abuse