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Penderecki: Viola Concerto; Cello Concerto / Zhislin, Vassiljeva

Penderecki / Warsaw Philharmonic Orch / Wit
Release Date: 09/27/2011 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572211   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Krzysztof Penderecki
Performer:  Grigori ZhislinTatjana Vassiljeva
Conductor:  Antoni Wit
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

I vividly remember seeing Penderecki conduct the New York Philharmonic in a particularly wrist-slashing concert consisting of his De Natura Sonoris No. 2 (I loved it when the percussion section appeared to attack a filing cabinet with a hacksaw), this Viola Concerto, and as a cheery finale, Shostakovich’s Fourteenth Symphony. It was winter, and snowing heavily. By the end of the concert there were about a dozen people left in the hall, which came as no surprise. The Viola Concerto struck me as uniformly grey and dismal, and it still does. Try as I might, and as well played as it is here, I’m not convinced that this is one of the composer’s more compelling efforts.

The Second Cello Concerto, on the other hand, is terrific, a
Read more large piece recognizably in the composer’s later, neo-romantic style. It’s still dark-ish, but far more varied in texture, timbre, and expression than the Viola Concerto, and it’s very well played here. You also always can count on Wit and his Polish forces to deliver the goods, particularly in Penderecki, and they don’t disappoint. You may also like the Viola Concerto more than I did. This isn’t a top recommendation in this series, then, but I have no qualms about the quality of the music making or the engineering.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com


This is a compelling addition to the already impressive series of Naxos CDs devoted to the music of one of Europe's most important living composers. These two substantial works by Krzysztof Penderecki date from the early days of the period where he was, in his own words, "saved from the avant-garde snare of formalism by a return to tradition". In other words, any listener not enamoured of the post-war hardcore European modernism in which Penderecki more than dabbled - as his renowned Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima or the notorious De Natura Sonoris I and Fluorescences testify - can safely read on.

Nevertheless, neither the Viola nor the Second Cello Concerto can be construed as especially easy listening. The music is a heady mixture of neo-Romanticism and early modernist elements, employing a language that both Shostakovich and Bartók would have recognised, yet going beyond the relatively mainstream idiom of his 'Christmas' Symphony. In character both works are certainly darksome, a sense of menace never far off - perhaps a reflection of difficult times in communist Poland. The bleak, eerie strings-only opening of the Second Cello Concerto is particularly memorable: the work was written for and premiered by Mstislav Rostropovich and is as relentlessly Cimmerian as any Penderecki, or any other composer for that matter, has written. Confrontational, multi-climactic and superbly scored, this is one of Penderecki's key works. The Viola Concerto is notably shorter and less spectacular, but is nevertheless stylish and accessible, providing also a convenient route into the sterner challenges of the Cello Concerto.

Guided by the expert but still underrated Antoni Wit, the excellent Warsaw Philharmonic give surely award-winning accounts of these demanding scores. The Russian soloists are majestic too: intuitive, expressive and virtuosic. This is Grigori Zhislin's first recording for Naxos, but he knows the Viola Concerto very well by now: a friend of Penderecki's, he gave the Russian premiere of the composer's Violin Concerto, and then took up the viola at Penderecki's request in order to be able to give the premiere, a quarter of a century ago, of his new Viola Concerto! Some may recall Tatjana Vassiljeva's only other recording for Naxos, her 'Cello Recital' (8.555762) almost a decade ago, on which she performed the Sonatas of Britten and Debussy among other works. Naxos released that in their occasional 'Laureate Series', in which they showcase award-winning newcomers. The surprise is that it took them so many years to re-record someone of Vassiljeva's great talent.

Sound quality is very good. The booklet notes are informative, albeit focused on a step-by-step guide to the music. Despite the short running time, for anyone new to Penderecki, but perhaps familiar with Shostakovich's symphonies and concertos, this disc is an ideal place to begin what should be a thrilling exploration.

-- Byzantion, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Viola by Krzysztof Penderecki
Performer:  Grigori Zhislin (Viola)
Conductor:  Antoni Wit
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1983; Poland 
Concerto for Cello no 2 by Krzysztof Penderecki
Performer:  Tatjana Vassiljeva (Cello)
Conductor:  Antoni Wit
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1982; Poland 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 I like Penderecki's music, however July 18, 2012 By Lisa Ragsdale (Minneapolis, MN) See All My Reviews "First of all I will admit to being biased. I have liked almost every work I have ever heard of Penderecki and I have eight CD's of his music. In this CD however I was just a tiny bit embarrassed to admit that the Viola Concerto did not hold up to my expectations. I don't know if it was because it was somewhat brief, or because it did not deliver what I usually hear. On the other hand the Cello Concerto # 2 was exceptional and I would have to state it is definitely one of his best works. I will live with the Viola Concerto because the Cello Concerto REALLY delivers a punch." Report Abuse
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