About this Recording
8.557052 - PENDERECKI: Sextet / Clarinet Quartet / Cello Divertimento
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Krzysztof Penderecki (b

Krzysztof Penderecki (b.1933)

Chamber Music


Chamber music has featured intermittently in the output of Krzysztof Penderecki. Born in Krakow in 1933, he was an accomplished violinist as a student, and a Sonata for Violin and Piano from 1953 was finally published some four decades later. He wrote numerous works for small instrumental ensembles up until the First String Quartet of 1960. Thereafter, with the exception of a Second String Quartet in 1969, the emphasis was firmly on operatic, choral and orchestral works. Chamber composition was restricted to short ‘homages’ to friends and musicians until, in the 1990s, he returned to the medium in earnest. Apart from the virtuosic String Trio (1992), the present disc features the two most significant chamber works of that decade, as well as several shorter pieces from either end of the composer’s career, which place his approach to instrumental writing in context.


Written for clarinet, horn, violin, viola, cello and piano, the Sextet (2000), in two contrasting movements, is Penderecki’s most substantial chamber work to date. The first movement opens understatedly, as, over tramping piano, the other instruments introduce a number of salient motifs with a Shostakovich-like ironic tinge. The music gathers rhythmic momentum, twice interrupted by cello and horn with a more expressive idea, the second time leading to a return of the tramping motion. This draws the instruments into a fearsome whirling motion, presaging the most intensive instrumental interplay yet heard. From here, the music drives to a forceful and decisive ending. The second movement opens with sonorous, elegiac music for the strings over a rhetorical-sounding piano. The clarinet enters with an unwinding melody line, and the music settles into a mood of pensive melancholy, clarinet and horn carrying the brunt of the melodic writing. Dramatic intensity is maintained through some typically Pendereckian ‘stepwise’ chromatic ascents, while several brief but jagged climaxes undermine the mood of regret. Gradually the expression becomes more animated and ironic, making the cello’s impassioned threnody, taken up by viola and then clarinet, all the more heartfelt. From here the music draws itself out in a conclusion of sombre, even funereal intensity, becoming increasingly spare and inward as the final bars are reached.


First given in Lübeck in August 1993, the Clarinet Quartet is both more concise and more succinct in expression. In the preludial Notturno: Adagio, the solo clarinet introduces the main melodic material in the opening bars, with cello, viola and violin almost an atmospheric backdrop. After a pause the Scherzo: Vivacissimo opens with aggressive repeated patterns in the strings, provoking a strident response from the clarinet. The process is repeated, before moving straight into the brief Serenade: Tempo di Valse, with its lightly ironic gait. The motion stills, and the finale begins. Marked Abschied: Larghetto, this is as long as the previous movements combined, another example of the sustained elegies that feature prominently in Penderecki’s later output. Strings open up a wide harmonic space in which the clarinet musingly pursues its melodic line. A single cello pizzicato ruffles the prolonged fade-out.


Composed in 1956, while Penderecki was still a student at Krakow University, the Three Miniatures for Clarinet and Piano give little hint of the radical features the composer was soon to introduce into his music. Indeed, the influence of Bartók is a reminder that the Dance Preludes (1954) by Witold Lutoslawski were then current in Polish new music. The Allegro opens with lively piano writing, with which the clarinet pursues an engaging discourse. There follows a plaintive Andante cantabile which wanders towards a questioning pause, from which the closing Allegro ma non troppo launches itself in a vigorous and decisive rounding-off of the sequence.


Written for and dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, the Divertimento for Solo Cello (1994) honours a creative association going back over two decades, including the notable première of the Second Cello Concerto in 1982. After a nobly-wrought prelude, the scherzo is of a capricious nature, with much use of pizzicato and col legno, playing with the wood of the bow, in the writing. There follows a strenuous toccata, Penderecki’s distinctive chromatic writing allied to cello playing of bracing virtuosity. An introspective yet intense elegy concludes this wide-ranging portrait of a great artist.


A précis of Penderecki’s melodic expression, the Prelude for Solo Clarinet, written in 1987 as a fortieth birthday tribute to the British composer Paul Patterson, takes the B flat instrument on a thoughtful journey which remains true to the Lento sostenuto marking at the beginning of the score.

Composed in 1959, just before the start of his international career, the Three Miniatures for Violin and Piano suggest the influence of Webern in their concision, expressive intensity and dynamic subtlety. No. 1 contrasts detached piano chords with extended violin techniques, No. 2 is a fractured violin solo, while No. 3 goes some way towards reconciling the instruments in a dialogue of often unpredictable contrasts. Although wholly abstract in their musical import, each piece is intriguingly prefaced in the score with a poem from Jerzy Harasymowicz’s cycle Genealogy of the Instruments.


Richard Whitehouse

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