Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 9,
“Sinfonia di Speranza.”
Concertino for Timpani, Percussion, and Strings
?ukasz Borowicz, cond; Konzerthausorchester, Berlin;
Michael Oberaigner (timpani);
Christian Löffler (perc)
CPO 7776852 (58:38)
The two works on this disc came late in Andrzej Panufnik’s career.
The Concertino was written as a percussion test piece for an LSO competition in 1979–80, while the Royal Philharmonic Society commissioned the Ninth Symphony for their 175th anniversary season in 1986–87. The composer wrote that he was somewhat intimidated when he discovered that the same society had commissioned a Ninth Symphony from Beethoven! In any case, Panufnik accepted the challenge and wrote a substantial symphonic work. Unlike Beethoven, he lived to complete a 10th Symphony as well.
The Concertino is in five fairly short, contrasting movements, and each has a specific character of its own. The opening “Entrata” begins with a theme on tubular bells, cleverly imitated by the strings; the second movement features bleak string textures punctuated by outbursts from percussion and eerie swelling timpani rolls; spiky rhythm dominates the central movement; the fourth movement brings more lyrical strings in the composer’s familiar Polish hymn mode, topped by a repetition of the opening theme on glockenspiel, and a brisk finale builds to a double drum cadenza and an abrupt close. The thematic material all stems from a four-note motif. This motif’s treatment—like the work’s structure—is highly disciplined.
The Symphony is in one continuous movement, although again it falls into a number of contrasting sections. Panufnik described it as containing specific warm and cold aspects: the warmth in the form of a long flowing lyrical line, and the coldness as a series of permutations of a three-note cell. At times one or the other of these predominates, but often they work out their musical progress simultaneously in opposing sections of the orchestra. (Panufnik’s masterly orchestration in this Symphony tends to operate in blocks of sound rather than emphasizing solo instruments.) In the final section, the strings play their slow cantilena in octaves while the brass add stuttering punctuations, and gradually this passage builds to an overwhelming climax. Nobody since Sibelius could manage these long, relentless builds the way Panufnik does. He named the work “Sinfonia di Speranza” (or Symphony of Hope), writing: “Living in the shadow of violence and terrorism ... I found myself endeavoring to write music of uplifting character, attempting to revive the springs of hope.” (This from a composer who died a decade before 9/11.) If, as he says, the first six notes of the “warm” melodic line represent hope for the future, then that future is far from being assured: the melody is repeatedly attacked throughout this final section, and rather than ending on any note of major-key triumphalism, the work closes with what could be described as a fierce musical question mark. Panufnik’s Ninth is, without doubt, one of the powerful symphonic statements of the late 20th century.
The composer was occasionally criticized for doing too much with too little in his later work. There is clearly some basis for this when referring to a 43-minute symphony built on a three-note motif, so pacing becomes all-important in the performance. Panufnik, who was a conductor of some renown, recorded the Ninth Symphony with the LSO shortly after the work’s premiere. That recording, originally released on the defunct Conifer label, was reissued a few years ago by RCA/BMG and is still available (coupled with the spiky Piano Concerto). It is a gripping performance, but I would not claim that it outclasses Borowicz’s new reading. The young Polish conductor is completely inside the composer’s idiom; this is the sixth volume in his comprehensive series of Panufnik’s symphonic output. He knows how to maintain tension in the frequent slow passages and always finds the perfect tempo for sections dominated by rhythmic activity. The Konzerthaus Orchestra plays extremely well, balances are clear, and CPO’s recording is preferable to the comparatively harsh recording under the composer. The same virtues apply to Borowicz’s performance of the Concertino. This is yet another mandatory issue in a welcome series.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Works on This Recording
Concertino for Timpani, Percussion and strings by Andrzej Panufnik
Christian Löffler (Percussion),
Michael Oberaigner (Timpani)
Period: 20th Century
Venue: Konzerthaus Berlin
Length: 16 Minutes 06 Secs.
Sinfonia della speranza by Andrzej Panufnik
Period: 20th Century
Venue: Konzerthaus Berlin
Length: 41 Minutes 13 Secs.
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