About this Recording
8.573062 - PENDERECKI, K.: Powiało na mnie morze snów… (A sea of dreams did breathe on me…) (Pasichnyk, Marciniec, Bręk, Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit)

Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933)
Powiało na mnie morze snów… (A sea of dreams did breathe on me…)


Kryzsztof Penderecki was born in Dubica on 23 November 1933 and studied at Krakow’s Academy of Music and Jagiellonian University. He first established himself at the Warsaw Autumn Festivals of 1959 and 1960. Quickly becoming part of the European avant-garde, he soon achieved international fame with Threnody [Naxos 8.554491] in which he imparted a keen expressivity to his then ‘sonorist’ musical language. The St Luke Passion [8.557149] proved how successful this idiom could be in sacred music and he continued to be inspired directly by these timeless religious themes as witnessed by his cantatas, oratorios and operas.

During the mid-1970s such involvement with tradition became deeper, Penderecki entering into dialogue with music that he rediscovered for himself. He went on to internalize the post-Romantic tradition and combine it with the technical hallmarks of his previous music. Major works written in this new style include the Concertos for Violin [8.555265], Cello (No. 2) and Viola [both on 8.572211], the Second Symphony [8.554492], the opera Paradise Lost, the Te Deum [8.557980] and A Polish Requiem [8.557386/7]. Continued formal and stylistic investigation led to the synthesis of the modern with the traditional. This inspired operas of such stylistic diversity as the expressionist Black Mask and the post-modern Ubu Rex. Other compositions drawing on this new aesthetic included his Symphonies Nos. 3 [8.554491], 4 [8.554492] and 5 [8.554657], and the oratorios Seven Gates of Jerusalem [8.557766] and Credo [8.572032], all of these associated with both an acute expression and a refined array of technical means.

A notable factor of Penderecki’s choral works has been their setting of mainly Latin texts, a tendency broken in his maturity as late as 2005 with the Eighth Symphony [8.570450] which is a setting of nineteenth-and early twentieth-century German poems. Five years after these Lieder der Vergänglichkeit (Songs of Transience) emerged Powiało na mnie morze snów… (A sea of dreams did breathe on me…), a work of comparable scale which sets both Romantic and contemporary Polish poetry. The result of a commission from the Fryderyk Chopin National Institute for the final concert of the bicentenary celebrations, it was premiered in Warsaw on 14 January 2011 by soprano Wioletta Chodowicz, mezzo Agnieszka Rehlis and baritone Mariusz Godlewski, with the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Sinfonia Varsovia under Valery Gergiev.

As with the aforementioned symphony, the present work comprises a number of individual songs grouped into larger movements. hence its 22 songs fall into three parts such as chart a gradual progression from an almost impressionistic lightness to that monumentality which is more usually associated with the composer, though this progression appears less intrinsically symphonic than a discursive and even illustrative succession more akin to a symphonic poem. The overall tone seems to be one of nostalgia for all which has gone or, moreover, been lost.

The first part, The enchanted garden, consists of the first six songs—opening with a poem by Kazimierz Wierzyński [1] that tells of two children who wonder across a poppy field at the outset of life: the luminous opening bars presage a gently wistful setting for mezzo which is wholly apposite to the poem in question. There follows a poem by Bolesław Leśmian [2] that evokes a beautiful queen in an enchanted landscape: its insinuating dialogue for woodwind ensures this setting feels only slightly more animated as the soprano unfolds a serene vocal line. Next comes a poem by Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński [3] that tells of the lover’s longing for an isle of bliss: soprano continues with a relatively spare and equivocal setting in which gongs and tuned percussion conjure a calm if unsettling atmosphere. A poem by Tadeusz Miciński follows [4] that evokes autumn woods at the turn of the season: this is a more animated setting which features soprano, baritone and chorus in music that touches on more acute emotions as it proceeds. The next poem by Stanisław Korab Brzozowski [5] draws an analogy between a solitary tree and Christ on the cross: this pensive setting centres on an eloquently declaimed vocal line from baritone which is continued by oboe towards a pensive close. Finally come lines by Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer [6] which tell of bells ringing for the Angelus: the work reaches its first climax with an impassioned setting for all three of the soloists and chorus in which bells and gongs sombrely underline the heightened though continually anxious mood.

The second part, What is the night saying?, consists of five songs—beginning with a poem by Leopold Staff [7] such as contemplates the immensity of the galaxy: a darkly inward mood is established in this setting for baritone with its hesitant backdrop from lower woodwind and strings. Next comes a further poem by Staff [8] that focusses on stars descending from the night sky: baritone continues with an atmospheric setting where gently undulating woodwind and strings enhance the overall mood. It is followed with a poem by Aleksander Watt [9] that likens the night’s silent cry with that from Warsaw’s Lubianka prison: the music intensifies in this setting for soprano and chorus that reaches a forceful climax before it subsides into halting phrases. The second part ends with poems by Miciński, the first [10] concerning a premonition of transcendence: a short while expressively eventful setting for mezzo and chorus in which the underlying mood of distanced regret is palpably conveyed. There follows a poem telling of human trepidation in the context of a nocturnal landscape [11]: mezzo continues in this thoughtful setting with its alternately pensive and anxious woodwind that reaches an unresolved close.

The third part, I visited you in these near-final days…, consists of the remaining 11 poems—beginning with a poem by Cyprian Kamil Norwid [12] that takes on something of a refrain as it draws an analogy between the start and the end of life: a notably declamatory setting for baritone and chorus with low woodwind and brass to the fore in its latter stages. The next poem by Tetmajer [13] concerns the similarity between a faraway land with the loved one’s soul: the music duly opens out in a setting for the female soloists and chorus which also features a poignant a cappella choral episode. Next come further lines from Norwid [14] that liken the strings of Orpheus’ lyre with the lovers’ conversation: this second setting again features baritone and chorus in a more animated treatment that builds to a tensile fugato on strings. It is followed by a poem from Miciński [15] which evokes the howling of the autumn wind: mezzo enters climactically in this setting that gradually winds down to a calm if hardly untroubled pause. A subsequent poem by Wat [16] concerns the poet’s entreaties to his native Warsaw while in enforced exile: soprano takes the foreground in a setting that ranks among the more immediate and even operatic of the sequence. After this comes a poem by Zbigniew Herbert [17] in which the author’s alter-ego muses on a return to the town of his childhood: an earnestly declaimed setting for baritone with the accompaniment restricted to sombre string harmonies before heading into a pensive dialogue for lower woodwind. Further lines by Norwid concern the image of Chopin at one with his piano [18]: this third setting is the most restrained as it centres upon the gentle interplay of strings and woodwind that cushion the baritone’s vocal line. Next comes a brief poem by Adam Mickiewicz [19] as contemplates transience and decay: a wistful setting for unaccompanied chorus which looks back to the composer’s earlier settings of religious texts. This is followed with a poem by Stefan Witwicki [20] that likens a Polish pine planted in foreign soil to the fate of the author in exile: baritone takes the foreground in this setting with plaintive contributions by woodwind over steadily pulsating strings and timpani. After a final valedictory allusion to Norwid, the work duly reaches its culmination with the complete poem by Przerwa-Termajer [21] in which the ringing for the Angelus contrasts with the ceaseless wondering of the soul as it ventures across a barren and unforgiving landscape: this most lengthy of the settings begins with the chorus, which is soon followed by baritone then mezzo and soprano as the music takes on a martial stridency before concluding with a very far from affirmative apotheosis.

Richard Whitehouse

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