About this Recording
8.572696 - PENDERECKI, K.: Piano Concerto, "Resurrection" / Flute Concerto (B. Douglas, Dlugosz, Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit)

Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933)
Piano Concerto ‘Resurrection’ • Concerto for Flute and Chamber Orchestra


Kryzsztof Penderecki was born in Dubica on 23rd November 1933, studying at the Kraków Academy of Music then the Jagiellonian University, before establishing himself at the Warsaw Autumn Festivals of 1959 and 1960. He soon became part of the European avant-garde, achieving a notable success with Threnody [Naxos 8.554491] in which he imparted an intensely expressive vein to his then ‘sonorist’ musical language. The St Luke Passion [8.557149] proved how successful this idiom could be in sacred music and he has continued to be inspired by timeless religious themes, as can be witnessed by his cantatas, oratorios and operas. During the mid-1970s, however, such an involvement with tradition became deeper—Penderecki entering into dialogue with music he ‘rediscovered’ for himself as he internalised the post-Romantic tradition then combined it with the technical hallmarks of his earlier music. Works written in this ‘new’ style include the Concertos for Violin [8.555265], Cello and Viola [both 8.572211], the Second Symphony [8.554492], the opera Paradise Lost, the Te Deum [8.557980] and A Polish Requiem [8.557386/7]. Further formal and stylistic investigation led to operas such as the expressionist Black Mask and the postmodern Ubu Rex, as well as the oratorios Seven Gates of Jerusalem [8.557766] and Credo [8.572032], all of which are informed by an acute expression along with a refined array of technical means.

Although he is best known for his choral and symphonic works, Penderecki has amassed a fair number of concertos. His early works for soloist and orchestra tend to be short and self-contained pieces that in themselves evince a fair measure of virtuosity, while also fighting shy of the rhetorical expression with which the concerto genre has so often been associated, thus the Sonata for Cello and Orchestra written for Siegfried Palm [8.570509]. With his First Violin Concerto [8.555265] of 1976, however, Penderecki came up with a full length concerto and one whose unabashed Romanticism itself marked the decisive break with his avant-garde past. Written for Isaac Stern (who once declared that it ranked among the most important such concertos from the later twentieth century), it has remained among the most frequently performed of all Penderecki’s pieces, and was presently followed by the hardly less emotionally intense Second Cello Concerto written for Mstislav Rostropovich, the smaller-scale Viola Concerto [both 8.572211] and the Flute Concerto, the Second Violin Concerto written for Anne-Sophie Mutter [8.555265], the Piano Concerto and the Horn Concerto [8.572482]. Several of these concertos have been arranged for other instruments, while several concertante works for soloist(s) and orchestra are not designated as concertos though they demonstrably continue the line of musical thinking present in these other works.

Penderecki’s Piano Concerto was written during 2001-2, in honour of Marie-Joseé Kravis, and given its première in Carnegie Hall, New York on 9th May 2002 with Emanuel Ax as soloist and Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. A major revision was undertaken five years later and first heard in Cincinnati on 7th December 2007, with Barry Douglas as soloist and the composer conducting the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Comprising ten movements played without pause, this renews Penderecki’s direct involvement with the ‘grand’ concerto tradition—notably of the Russian lineage that had its culmination in Rachmaninov and Prokofiev—while its subtitle, ‘Resurrection’, is made musically explicit by the plainsong-like idea (which was conceived in the aftermath of the ‘9/11’ terrorist attack) that only gradually makes its way into the foreground before emerging at full strength during the climactic stages.

Agitated figures on lower strings  1  are joined by percussion before the soloist enters in like fashion, soon taking over the foreground before the activity is diverted by dramatic gestures from the orchestra. With the initial impulsiveness restored, the music drives onward to a forceful climax for soloist and orchestra, after which  2  the momentum rapidly tails off and a plaintive idea for cor anglais emerges against wistful arabesques from the soloist and soulful harmonies for orchestra. At length the earlier impetus is regained and another forceful climax is arrived at before being suddenly curtailed  3  to leave brusque gestures between the soloist and an array of percussion, with sardonic woodwind also making its presence felt. A further climax is denied  4  by the implacable intervention of brass and lower strings, the soloist continuing in uncertainty against an atmospheric background with lower woodwind and tuned percussion in evidence before a sudden acceleration brings renewed activity  5  in the guise of a strutting march that soon collapses  6  into a more conciliatory response from orchestra, with the soloist soon joining the brass in a baleful statement of intent which is reinforced by strings and woodwind on the way to an imploring climax. The soloist now takes up the agitated opening idea  7  which is presently deflected by the orchestra into another marchlike episode, then into a hectic tutti that culminates  8  in a powerful restatement of the plainsong that has been heard at least twice before. Tension now subsides before a short unaccompanied passage for the soloist leads into a climactic statement of the plainsong on the whole orchestra, which is left resounding into a welter of bell and percussive sounds. The soloist  9  counters this with peremptory gestures that involve the orchestra in a series of irascible exchanges, but a further implacable response from brass and strings  10  leads to a more subdued interplay with woodwind sounding a note of wistfulness prior to a hushed return of the plainsong on strings and percussion. Any lasting reconciliation is to be denied, however, by a final surge of activity that sees the work through to its brutally decisive close.

Penderecki’s Flute Concerto (1992) was written to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, and first performed in Lausanne on 11th January 1993 by Jean-Pierre Rampal with the composer conducting the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra (a transcription for clarinet was made two years later). As with those other concertos involving wind rather than string instruments, the present work is relatively modest in length and instrumentation, though the chamber orchestra is deployed with considerable resource while the emotional range is wider than that often associated with the flute. There are five movements, again played without pause and often with notable deviations from the tempo heading.

Inquisitive gestures on clarinet  11  are presently joined by other woodwind before the soloist breaks free for a sequence of lively exchanges with strings and percussion. Atmospheric strings provide the backdrop for a more eloquent dialogue involving the soloist, before a more capricious mood is established  12  and the music acquires a new energy as propelled by strings and woodwind. This yields to a ruminative interplay  13  with the soloist partnered by an ever-changing succession of accompaniments in what is the concerto’s most imaginatively orchestrated section, eventually arriving at a plangent unison chord from where percussion sets off a more aggressive orchestral response  14  which itself makes way for a haunting dialogue between the soloist and clarinet. A further harsh response from strings sees a short accompanied cadenza, before the soloist sets in motion a renewed impetus  15  which takes in various recollections of ideas that have already been heard. This at length yields to a striking passage for the soloist against string harmonics, which soon takes on greater eloquence as it unfolds and finds the soloist joined by cor anglais for an affecting dialogue against a hushed response from strings then percussion. From here the music heads into an elegiac coda, in which the soloist is joined by strings and woodwind for a gradually ascending motion whose concluding chord is shot through with poignant regret.

Richard Whitehouse

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