Raymond Tuttle and I both reviewed a new Naxos CD of the Piano Concerto in 37:1. We both praised it highly and considered putting it on our respective Want Lists for the year. In my case it was crowded out by other candidates, but inRead more Tuttle’s it made the final cut, to my great delight. Now, nipping closely at the heels of that release, we have here a second one, virtually equal in musical merits to its rival, but unfortunately handicapped by being issued by itself for a disc with an excessively short timing, whereas the Naxos issue also includes a first-rate account of the composer’s Flute Concerto. Consequently, buying this second version is possibly a counsel of extravagance, made primarily to those such as myself who love Penderecki’s music from his post-1974 tonal stylistic phase.
As I previously discussed the work’s basic structure, I will not repeat that here. In comparing the two performances, I find that this recording has a crisper, clearer recorded ambience, whereas that on the Naxos disc is somewhat more resonant, so if you have a strong preference in that regard (I do not), that in and of itself may sway you one way or another. This performance gets off to a superior start, with a more lively and agitated opening section that makes Douglas and Wit on Naxos seems a bit cautious by comparison. By about the two-minute mark, however, the Naxos rendition pulls up to an even position with this one, and I find Douglas to be just a shade more poetic and fluid in the score’s more melodic and intimate sections, though Uhlig is an excellent protagonist in every way, and both orchestras and conductors are likewise equally on their mettle. For much of the rest of the traversal of the score, I find that Wit brings a bit more drama to the proceedings than does Borowicz; but then the Hänssler recording scores a major coup at the work’s mighty climax in the third reiteration of the chorale theme (shortly after the 30-minute mark), where the church bells positively thunder forth to splendid effect, whereas on the Naxos disc they are distant and muffled. For some folks, that one passage of the score may be enough to say “Sold!” to Hänssler over Naxos, despite the short timing.
There are a few other smaller but important secondary details to consider in making a decision. Naxos generously provides 10 tracks, one for each of the Concerto’s sections, whereas Hänssler offers only five. On the other hand, Hänssler has extremely interesting booklet notes on the surprisingly controversial reception this Concerto received in Europe. Upon its performance at the 2002 Warsaw Festival, a prominent Polish critic attacked Pendercki for allegedly having become “an advocate of Socialist Realism”—an especially vicious smear, given Penderecki’s devout Roman Catholic faith and support of Solidarno??, among other factors that had made anything but a fair-haired boy of the communist authorities during their rule—and accused him of “emotionally blackmailing” listeners by dedicating the composition to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York. Other critics soon chimed in with diatribes against the work as “banal,” “music of a house painter,” “a great slab of Rachmaninoff,” and “an overindulgence of stale leftovers from meals of his own and others’ making.” Penderecki also had his defenders, of course, including a published letter of support signed by 21 leading figures of Poland’s musical community.
Especially given the “Rachmaninoff” jibe, it’s easy enough to tell that this hyperbolic assault was a concerted move by critics with an allegiance to avant-garde movements who believe that Penderecki betrayed them by his reversion to tonality, view him as a dangerous, reactionary traitor, and saw an opening to take revenge. This is made all the more clear when one listens to the work itself; it bears no resemblance to Rachmaninoff, and instead is very much of a piece with the composer’s other compositions from the last 30-plus years, if perhaps somewhat more heart-on-sleeve in its emotional expressiveness and optimistic in tenor. (And, exactly what is supposed to be so wrong with Rachmaninoff’s music, pray tell? I’m reminded of an occasion some 30 years ago where a museum at which I had a summer job featured an exhibit of “modern art” consisting of collages of random metal parts welded together. When I indicated my lack of enthusiasm for such things, one of the “artists” contemptuously sneered at me, “I’ll bet you’re one of those people who likes landscapes! LAAAAANDSCAPES!!!”)
In any case, the choice is yours. Both supersede the premiere recording of the work, a 2007 Dux release of the original version of the score (to which Penderecki subsequently added about five additional minutes of music) with pianist Beata Bili?ska and the composer conducting the National Polish Radio Symphony of Katowice. With either this version or the one on Naxos, you’re a winner. Highly recommended.
Concerto for Piano "Resurrection"by Krzysztof Penderecki Performer:
Florian Uhlig (Piano)
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Contemporary Written: 2001-2002
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
A heartfelt response to tragedyAugust 1, 2014By Ralph Graves (Hood, VA)See All My Reviews"The events of 9/11 triggered the creation of many musical works. Some are only of passing interest, while others, such as Penderecki's piano concerto have taken on lives of their own. This new recording presents the revised version of this concerto. In 2007 Penderecki rewrote the final movement, and in the process made it a more hopeful and inspiring work. Although some of the tone clusters and and atonal gestures reminded me of his 1964 "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima," Penderecki's piano concerto is a vastly different work. I'd almost classify it as post-romantic. It has the same sprawling bigness of a Rachmaninoff concerto. Although there's not a discernible cadenza, the piano plays almost non-stop throughout the work with virtuoso runs and chords. And although there are sections of great intimacy and delicacy, there are even more where the full orchestra's playing with maximum volume. Florian Uhlig plays with the right emotional tone. He's a brilliant technician, of course, but he also understands that this is a work of deep emotion. Uhlig effectively communicates that emotion with virtually every note. And conductor Likasz Borowicz is right there with him. The work has some sudden shifts and juxtapositions, but under Borowicz' direction, there's never a misstep. The revised "Resurrection" concerto is a powerful work that should find a place in the standard repertoire. Yes, it's that good -- and so is this recording."Report Abuse
A fine recording, but short measureOctober 12, 2013By Dean Frey See All My Reviews"Constanze Muller tells the fascinating story of Krzystof Penderecki's Piano Concerto in the CD liner of this new Hanssler CD from Polish Radio. It's something of a soap opera, and as happens so often in that genre, a similar story has played out many times before. The reaction to the premiere of the work that Penderecki wrote in response to the events of September 11, 2001 began a critical and polemic firestorm that took years to subside. Once the darling of the avant-garde, the composer was criticized in the strongest terms for bringing back Social Realism to the music of Eastern Europe. True believers so often see as a sell-out the artist with a career longer than a couple of years and any kind of growth and development. Villa-Lobos was skewered by modernists in Brazil for moving to a more accessible and populist style. Many of Bob Dylan's fans were scandalized by his use of electric guitars. Some of this is perhaps just hipsterism: "I liked Penderecki better when he was remembering the Hiroshima victims in his 1960 Threnody. Much more authentic!" There is a whiff of banality in the Piano Concerto, if one takes it all at face value. But surely Shostakovich has shown that every large-scale work with a political subtext can not be judged only by the obvious outer layer. That the work has a number of layers is clear after a couple of listens. This recording, with pianist Florian Uhlig and Lukasz Borowicz conducting the Polish RSO, came out only months after the early 2013 release of a very well-received Naxos CD that features pianist Barry Douglas, who premiered the 2007 version of the Piano Concerto. That CD included a second work, the Flute Concerto. At less than 38 minutes, the Hanssler disc gives short measure. As well-played and well-recorded as the new disc is, I would opt for the Naxos disc, and save some money in the bargain."Report Abuse