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Panufnik: Sfere - Symphonic Works Vol 7 / Borowicz, Polish Radio Symphony

Release Date: 02/25/2014 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777686   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Andrzej Panufnik
Performer:  Michael Von SchonermarkSarah Van Der Kemp
Conductor:  Lukasz Borowicz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Polish Radio Symphony OrchestraBerlin Concert House Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

PANUFNIK Symphony No. 5 “Sinfonia di Sfere.” Landscape. 1 Bassoon Concerto 2. Love Song 3 ?ukas Borowicz, cond; 2 Michael von Schönermark (bsn); 3 Sarah van der Kemp (mez); Konzerthaus O Berlin; 1 Polish RSO Read more class="BULLET12"> • CPO 777 686-2 (67: 37)

The seventh volume in CPO’s Panufnik series is dominated by the Sinfonia di Sfere , or Symphony of the Spheres, which the composer described in part as “a musical structure influenced by the beauty and mystery of geometry.” Composed in 1974–75, it belongs to a period when Panufnik had turned to numerical or, in this case, specifically geometric formulae to work out the structure of large-scale works built on the most minimal of thematic motifs. (The following symphony, No. 6–– Sinfonia Mistica ­­––shares this approach.) While the Fifth contains highly characteristic passages, such as long-breathed melodies or rhythmically disjointed scherzo sections punctuated by percussion, it is probably not the place to start for an introduction to this composer. It is one of his drier pieces. (The note writer, Christoph Schlüren, nominates the Fifth as his favourite Panufnik symphony. Obviously it is one for the converted.) Make no mistake, the music has plenty going for it: highly individual orchestration, such as a solo bass trombone supported by tuned percussion, drums and piano in the Poco Andante (the third section of a continuous seven-part structure). Indeed, the use of trombone, both here and in the opening section, calls to mind the Polish liturgical influence that resides at the heart of all Panufnik’s music. The orchestral textures are vivid: Panufnik scores in primary rather than blended color, always with clarity. The piano has as notable role throughout. Crucially, Borowicz sustains tension in the passages where very little seems to be happening (a facility also required in Shostakovich’s symphonies). More on the performance anon.

The bassoon concerto of 1985 is scored for a chamber orchestra of strings, with flute and two clarinets. This short work was inspired by the murder of a Catholic priest, Father Jerzy Popie?uszko, by the communist secret police­­––so it is far from the divertimento style one would usually expect from a concerto for this instrument. The musical argument is alternately dramatic and lyrical in a somewhat melancholy way, and like the symphony it is clean in texture and sparing in thematic content. Love Song is a 1977 setting of a love poem by Philip Sidney, written for the English mezzo-soprano Meriel Dickinson; originally with piano accompaniment, it was scored for harp and string orchestra by the composer in the last year of his life. As the song was a gift from Panufnik to his wife, it is understandably more lyrical and romantic (with a small ‘r’) than the rest of the music on this disc, providing an effective contrast with the preceding works.

The quiet orchestral piece Landscape (lasting just under 9 minutes) dates from the composer’s first decade in Britain, and was premiered under his baton in 1965. It is a straightforward attempt to capture a broad English––or possibly Polish––landscape in musical terms, and has a subtly inward and melancholy quality that is typical of much of Panufnik’s work. Gentle, high string textures immediately establish an otherworldly atmosphere that is skillfully maintained throughout. Walter Simmons, in a review of another performance, described the piece neatly as “a bittersweet, hauntingly beautiful, motionless vision.”

In this series Borowicz has shown himself to be completely inside Panufnik’s idiom. In several instances he has allowed us to re-evaluate works that were regarded as secondary, showing a capacity to get to the heart of music that has on occasion been condemned as heartless. He does so again in the Fifth Symphony: His clarity and assurance allow us to easily follow the motivic development. The Konzerthaus orchestra plays well for him, with every exposed instrumental line cleanly delineated and given an individual character.

In both the symphony and Landscape , Borowicz is competing against a 2007 recording from Ondine, featuring John Storgårds and the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra. (Their program includes the earlier Sinfonia Sacra and Heroic Overture , and was reviewed positively by Simmons in Fanfare 31: 4.) CPO’s up-close sound balance makes for clarity, but Ondine’s more distanced acoustic adds a good deal of atmosphere, tellingly so in Landscape . The Storgårds recording is available in surround sound, for those who prefer to be surrounded. I would say the two versions complement each other, as both are very good. Schönermark’s bassoon is closely recorded as well: He produces a rich timbre, sounding at times almost like a French horn. Van der Kemp sings strongly, but her voice is just a fraction too unwieldy above the stave to convey the wit of Love Song , which ideally needs a lighter touch.

Needless to say, I recommend this release. Indeed, I recommend every CD in this series, which I have described elsewhere as revelatory. Almost a quarter century after his death, it is important that Panufnik’s stature as a composer be re-established. As music lovers we all benefit.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Sinfonia di sfere by Andrzej Panufnik
Conductor:  Lukasz Borowicz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra,  Berlin Concert House Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Landscape by Andrzej Panufnik
Conductor:  Lukasz Borowicz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra,  Berlin Concert House Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Concerto for Bassoon by Andrzej Panufnik
Performer:  Michael Von Schonermark (Bassoon)
Conductor:  Lukasz Borowicz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra,  Berlin Concert House Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1985; England 
Love Song by Andrzej Panufnik
Performer:  Sarah Van Der Kemp (Alto)
Conductor:  Lukasz Borowicz
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra,  Berlin Concert House Orchestra

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