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8.572211 - PENDERECKI, K.: Viola Concerto / Cello Concerto No. 2 (Zhislin, Vassiljeva, Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit)

Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933)
Viola Concerto • Cello Concerto No. 2


Although he remains best known for his large scale choral and symphonic works, Krzysztof Penderecki has amassed a sizeable concerto output. His early works for soloist and orchestra had tended to be short and self-contained pieces that themselves evinced a fair measure of virtuosity, while fighting shy of the rhetorical expression with which the concerto genre had so frequently been associated, hence the Sonata for Cello and Orchestra, written for Siegfried Palm [Naxos 8.570509]. With his First Violin Concerto [Naxos 8.555265] of 1976, however, Penderecki came up not only with a full length concerto, but one whose unabashed Romanticism itself marked a decisive break with his avant-garde past. Written for Isaac Stern (who memorably declared it to be among the most important such concertos from the twentieth century), it has remained among the composer’s most frequently performed works, and it was followed by the hardly less emotionally wrought Second Cello Concerto written for Mstislav Rostropovich, the smaller-scale Viola Concerto and Flute Concerto, then the Second Violin Concerto written for Anne-Sophie Mutter [Naxos 8.555265], the Piano Concerto and the Horn Concerto. Several of these concertos have also been arranged for other instruments, while there are several concertante works for soloist(s) and orchestra that are not designated as concertos, but which demonstrably continue the line of musical thinking that is present in the other works.

The Viola Concerto (1983) is a significant example of Penderecki’s contribution to the genre in that, while not among his most imposing such works, it incorporates the broad range of musical techniques from the composer’s maturity into a taut and compact time-span. The Concerto was first performed by José Vazquez, with the Maracaibo Symphony Orchestra and Eduardo Rahn, in Caracas on 21 July 1983, and its success can be gauged from the number of transcriptions that it has subsequently received. A version with chamber orchestra was first performed by Grigorij Zhislin with his Chamber Orchestra in Moscow on 20 October 1985; that for cello was given its première by Boris Pergamenschikov, with the Wuppertal Symphony Orchestra and Peter Gülke, in Wuppertal on 15 December 1989; while that for clarinet was first given by Orit Orbach, with the Colorado Music Festival Orchestra and Giora Bernstein, in Boulder on 9 July 1995.

The work opens with a pensive soliloquy for the soloist which is soon joined by lower strings as the expressive tension mounts. A further solo passage is more demonstrative, and is offset by searching exchanges between the various string sections on the way to another brief climax, before heading into a heated confrontation between the soloist and brass. This launches a faster section, marked Vivace, which is continued by incisive interplay between the strings which latterly transfers to brass and percussion, before the soloist shares in an evocative Meno mosso passage with tuned percussion and lower strings. This takes on something of a scherzando character when woodwind and percussion emerge in the following Vivo, but the initial gravitas is soon restored in the Tempo I of the lower strings and the soloist unfolds a pensive monologue against static string harmonies. This continues unaccompanied for a while longer, before leading straight into a martial passage, marked Vivo, which moves forward with a determined intent on brass and strings. The soloist engages volubly in the confrontation, before the percussion capped climax leads, via atmospheric writing for upper woodwind and percussion, to a resumption of the passive music heard at the outset. The soloist in turn resumes its initial pensiveness and the work moves steadily towards a conclusion in which aspects of the earlier orchestral writing are recalled as if from a distance, before alighting on an austere chord that fades out into nothingness.

As mentioned above, the Second Cello Concerto (1982) was written for Mstislav Rostropovich and was first performed by him, with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the composer, in Berlin on 11 January 1983. At the time it attracted much attention for its ostensible expansion of the neo-Romantic language that Penderecki had adopted during the preceding decade, and which reached its apogee in the opera Paradise Lost (1978), the Second Symphony (1980) [Naxos 8.554492] and the Te Deum (1979) [Naxos 8.557980]. What followed was couched in a more pluralistic style, drawing on aspects of his more radical manner of the 1960s and early 1970s in an attempt at overall musical synthesis, whose largest works are A Polish Requiem (1984) [Naxos 8.557386/7] and the opera Die schwarze Maske (1986). This idiom has, with certain modifications, held good for Penderecki’s music over the past 25 years.

The work opens with icily descending gestures on upper strings, lower strings sounding out held chords as those gestures increase both in volume and harmonic density to result in chordal clusters that spread across the whole string texture. These presently fall away to leave only pulsating chords on basses, before more stable writing starts to emerge on the lower strings. It is only now that the soloist appears, in a gradually ascending passage that leads (Vivo) into sustained exchanges with the orchestra. The mood for the most part is fateful and resigned, though it frequently flairs up into heated exchanges between the soloist and brass, these provoking a more active string response as well as some brusque assaults from the percussion. These latter presently join the soloist prior to a resumption of the initial string gestures (Tempo I), thus paving the way for a passage in which the soloist and upper woodwind musingly exchange gestures on the way to a highly wrought climax and its regretful aftermath. From here the music springs into renewed activity (Allegretto), the soloist engaging in lively repartee with strings and percussion that culminates in angry cluster chords and repeated attacks from woodwind. As these gradually subside, the initial strings gestures briefly return to usher in (Lento) the work’s most sustained passage, essentially a monologue for the soloist against first an arresting texture of woodwind and percussion, then proceeding to an intensive interplay with the strings that sees the entry of brass as a forceful climax is reached. The mood is now at its most earnest, as lower brass and percussion intone a fateful response to the soloist’s eloquent threnody. Yet the percussion once more provoke greater activity (Allegretto), with the soloist leading the orchestra in a spirited processional that heads into a more capricious section (Poco meno mosso) with brass and percussion to the fore. These offset what is an elaborate accompanied cadenza, with the soloist displaying a range of responses to the orchestra’s confrontational manner, before winding down to sustained chords. At this point (Tempo I) the initial string gestures re-emerge for the final time, while the soloist embarks upon a closing threnody that returns the music to its initial uncertainty. Upper strings, woodwind and bells continue alone as the work concludes with the wider issues raised during its course left hanging in the balance.

Richard Whitehouse

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