About this Recording
8.557253 - PENDERECKI: Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 and 2
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Krzysztof Penderecki (b

Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933)

Violin Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2


Chamber music has featured only intermittently in the output of Krzysztof Penderecki. An accomplished violinist as a student, he wrote numerous works for small ensembles up until the First String Quartet of 1960. Thereafter, with the exception of a Second String Quartet from 1969, the emphasis was firmly on operatic, choral and orchestral works. Chamber composition was restricted to short ‘homages’ for friends and musicians until, in the 1990s, Penderecki returned to the medium in earnest. The present disc features one of his most significant chamber works from the end of that period, as well as several shorter pieces from either end of the composer’s career which place his approach to instrumental writing in context.


Composed in Krakow during 1953, before Penderecki had begun his studies at the Academy of Music, what is now known as the First Sonata for Violin and Piano was not published until the early 1990s. After several ominous piano chords, the Allegro bursts into life with a lively, Shostakovich-like idea, contrasted with a more expressive theme. This alternation is then elaborated and varied along the lines of a truncated sonata-form movement. The first idea breaks off to reveal, after a pause, the more inward world of the Andante, a muted violin pursuing its Bartókian soliloquy over pensive piano chords. A sudden surge leads directly into the toccata-like Allegro vivace, its brusque main theme alternating with a gentler idea in a brief but energetic rondo which concludes the work with a flourish.


Composed in 1959, immediately after Penderecki had won all three prizes awarded that year by the Polish Composers’ Association and 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, and No. 3 goes some way towards reconciling the instruments in a dialogue of unpredictable contrasts. Wholly abstract in its musical import, each piece is intriguingly prefaced in the score with a poem from Jerzy Harasymowicz’s cycle Genealogy of the Instruments. The composer, together with pianist Henryk Jarznynki, gave the première in Krakow during June 1960.


Composed in 1984, Cadenza is actually an appendix to the Viola Concerto which Penderecki wrote the previous year. Both works begin with an intervallic figure underlying much of the music that follows. Although written without bar lines, Cadenza falls into three, clearly discernible sections. The first of these elaborates on the opening figure with increasingly expressive arches and intensifying dynamics. At its apex, this gives way to a lively central section with much virtuoso writing for the instrument. The music reaches a peak of activity, then a rapid slowing down marks a return to the opening music and, finally, the initial gesture. Grigory Schislin gave the première at Luslawice in September 1984.


The Second Violin Sonata, completed in 2000, is among Penderecki’s most substantial instrumental works to date. The arch-like trajectory of its five-movement form recalls several late pieces by Schnittke (especially his Eighth Symphony and Second Cello Sonata) and also Shostakovich (notably his Eighth String Quartet). Quiet, pizzicato violin chords begin the opening Larghetto, interspersed with impassioned bowed phrases. The piano now enters with an upward rushing scale, then the two instruments pursue a bleakly lyrical dialogue, in the process expounding upon their initial material. A brief, double- stopped cadenza passage leads directly into the Allegretto scherzando, its strutting, parodistic theme a familiar element in the composer’s musical idiom ever since the First Violin Concerto [Naxos 8.555265]. The music quickly becomes more aggressive, before a fugitive recall of the main theme, the violin now muted, and a tersely inscrutable closing gesture. Marked ‘Notturno’, the Adagio is the keystone of the work, and its emotional centre of gravity. The main theme unwinds unhurriedly yet with an agitation that sees several climaxes punctuate the movement’s free-ranging discourse. Midway a wistful passage finds both instruments musing on the work’s opening gesture in a telling point of repose. The preceding scherzo is alluded to, presaging a brief eruption, before the movement moves back into the plaintive territory from which it emerged. A brief pause, and the Allegro breaks in with a forceful idea again derived from that opening gesture. The second theme is contrastingly serene and expressive, setting up a sonata-form structure which incorporates a cadenza-like passage going into the reprise and further references to the second movement, culminating in a downward plunging sequence for violin, whose prolonged trill ushers in the final Andante. Less an autonomous movement in itself than a coda to the work as a whole, it draws together previous ideas in a flowing fantasia, at length disappearing regretfully into silence.


Richard Whitehouse

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