Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies: No. 7,
“Metasinfonia” for Organ, Timpani, and Strings
; No. 8,
?ukasz Borowicz, cond; Konzerthausorchester Berlin
CPO 777 684-2 (67: 13)
Unlike its predecessors, the fifth installment in CPO’s series of Panufnik’s symphonies and orchestral pieces contains nothing of the composer’s early work. The three works recorded here premiered in 1978,
1981, and 1979, respectively, and all represent a period of the composer’s output that has been misunderstood—or certainly was so at the time. From 1973 onwards Panufnik adopted a rigorous process to structure his thematic material, using principles of geometry amongst other mathematical disciplines. Although he protested that this was a compositional process only and that his music still had an emotional core, his late work was often derided as dry and uninspired. Some listeners missed the piquancy provided by his earlier Polish folk-music influence. Panufnik died in 1991 and, as is often the case, his music suffered subsequent neglect.
To my mind, this series of recordings is doing nothing less than redefining Panufnik’s status as one of the more forward-thinking composers of the 20th century. As he showed in his performance of the 10th Symphony in Volume 4, Borowicz has a special affinity for this composer. He hears the late music from a perspective that was unavailable to earlier interpreters: the perspective of today. For him, late Panufnik is not early Panufnik robbed of its flavor; rather it is music heading into the minimal world of Pärt, paring back superfluous detail and often achieving a state of suspended animation that could be described as spiritual. (There are, of course, precedents: The tone of much of Panufnik’s later music is presaged in his
A good example of Borowicz’s approach is provided by the Symphony No. 8, subtitled
and commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra for its centenary in 1981. This is one of the better-known late works, thanks to a recording made shortly after its premiere in Boston under Seiji Ozawa (one of the first issues to appear on the Hyperion label). The symphony is in two movements: the first (
) slow and quiet, the second (
) fast and loud. While the individual instrumentalists play beautifully in the Boston recording, the first movement seems to meander aimlessly. They are on home ground in the more traditionally symphonic activity of the second movement, but the result sounds like two different pieces yoked together. Borowicz and his Berlin musicians shape the first movement with considerable nuance: The music flows, it definitely feels devotional, and it dovetails naturally into the brisk second movement where the German musicians also find a more specific character. Altogether this is a detailed and understanding performance.
The same adjectives might be applied to the rest of the program.
The Concerto Festivo
is a three-movement orchestral work with a string-dominated, devotional elegy encompassed by a brassy fanfare-laden opening and a virile
to close (marked
). Again Borowicz brings to life not only the vigorous music but also the genuinely moving central movement. Aided by CPO’s clear and warm recording, he and soloist Jörg Strodthoff provide a myriad of colors in the “Metasinfonia” for Organ, Timpani, and Strings, reminding us that Panufnik was as much concerned with sonority as with structure. This marvelous work in a single movement progresses in episodic blocks, rather than through organic development, creating an archaic, formal and almost monumental impression. I would not hesitate to rank it with other great modern works for organ and orchestra: Poulenc’s Organ Concerto, Copland’s Organ Symphony or Poul Ruders’s Symphony No. 4.
This disc is thoroughly recommended, as are all in this series. The Symphonies No. 5 (“Sinfonia di Sfere”) and No. 9 (“Sinfonia di Speranza”) are yet to come; the former has always been a hard nut to crack—it is the longest—the latter received a definitive recording under the composer himself. On the basis of what I have heard so far, I predict Borowicz (either with the Berlin Konzerthaus or Polish Radio Orchestra) will conquer both of those works triumphantly. Hopefully he will also rerecord the concertos for piano, cello, and violin.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Works on This Recording
Sinfonia votiva by Andrzej Panufnik
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1981/1984; England
Venue: Konzerthaus Berlin
Length: 25 Minutes 10 Secs.
Concerto Festivo, for orchestra by Andrzej Panufnik
Date of Recording: 12/21/2010
Venue: Konzerthaus Berlin
Length: 15 Minutes 12 Secs.
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