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Walter Simmons
Fanfare, March 2008

Polish-born conductor Mariusz Smolij…leads the Polish Chamber Orchestra in performances of striking sensitivity and precision. My attention was drawn repeatedly to their delicacy and unusually refined phrasing. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

American Record Guide, April 2007

Andrzej Panufnik (1914-91) was a well-known Polish composer who wrote comfortably in 20th Century language. His best known work is Sinfonia Sacra-and it's my favorite, but beyond that I have not been that enthusiastic about his work. I was certainly not prepared for the tone or quality of this music. Its inspiration is high, and the only thing it has in com­mon with 20th Century music is that it was written in the 20th Century. Most of it sounds like it came from centuries past, reflecting the title, Homage to Polish Music. Each work is based on materials Panufnik gathered from Poland's 16th or 17th Centuries or from folk tradition.

According to Camilla Jessel Panufnik, the composer's wife, her husband turned to examining music from Poland's past as an escape from the pressures Soviet realism imposed on Eastern European composers. Panufnik's interest was piqued by observing what he described as the "superb reconstruction of beautiful 16th and 17th Century houses in... Warsaw, which had been flattened in the uprising at the end of the Second World War. . .I felt a strong desire to undertake a similar task with fragments of Polish ... music of the same century, which had suffered near oblivion because of Poland's ... numerous foreign invasions. Little ... survived in a performable state, and I wanted to fill the gap ... [recreating] ... the true period style ... [without] superimposing my own musical fingerprints."

He has surely done that-and better than many composers who wrote pieces of this type.

Old Polish Suite (1950, rev. 1955) alternates lively yet elegant Renaissance-style dances with two solemn interludes. The contrast is startling but works very well. Concerto in Modo Antico (1951, rev. 1955) for trumpet, timpani, harpsichord, and strings is a six-movement work that could easily be mistaken for a work on one of the many baroque solo trumpet records we hear nowadays. Jagiellonian Triptych (1966) for string orchestra is composed of materials left over from Old Polish Suite. Camilla Panufnik writes that it "conjured up a religious altarpiece from Poland's golden Jagiellonian age". I is in dance style; II takes on a celestial tone with the solemn hymn-like treatment in the high strings before descending gradually to earth (middle and low strings). III is a lighter dance that repeats its material in varied articulations. The three-movement Old Polish Music: Divertimento after Janiewicz (1947) for string orchestra based on trios by the 18th Century Polish (later British) composer Feliks Janiewicz takes us into the lively world of Haydn.

Homage to Chopin is the only "modern" sounding work here. Panufnik's intention was not to use Chopin's themes but to write a piece based on the folk materials from the Masovia region where Chopin was born. He wrote the piece for soprano and piano in 1949 to mark the centenary of Chopin's death and turned out the arrangement for flute and strings in 1966. It's a beautiful and heartfelt piece that reflects its Polish folk origins, but it also sounds a little French because of its delicacy, the use of the flute, and the piquant, bi-tonal harmonies. I through III are all serious, modal and generally quiet. The ABA IV surrounds somber B with sprightly bitonal sections sound like Milhaud. The slowly paced V, II the treading flute nearly paralleled by stri striding alongside, also sounds like Milha plus a touch of Copland. The touching quasiamen ending concludes a beautiful work flute players should seek out.

This music requires beautiful string so and dead -on intonation, and it gets both from the Polish Chamber Orchestra. Trumpeter Cechoco plays with a beefy tone that may seem out of place if you hear the Concerto Modo Antico right after Old Polish Suite, but I not only got used to it quickly but found it suited the piece very well. In similar fashion Hanna Turonek's breathy flute fits the ethereal tone of Homage. Sound is first rate and Cala's notes are fine.

Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, March 2007

If you have ever been to Warsaw- the city where Panufnik was born and lived for many years - and which I visited three years ago, one thing will come up and strike you hard. To appreciate this you must visit the Warsaw History Museum in the Old Town Market Square. There you will see hundreds of photos of the city taken during the war and soon after. The scenes are of complete devastation. The city was flattened so that almost nothing remained. It is especially difficult to realize this as so much has now been rebuilt painstakingly and lovingly just as it had been. The work continues.

It is this sense of rebuilding the past, cherishing it and respecting it that inhabits the music presented here. It was almost as if in the late 1940s and 1950s Poland was searching for its identity. Under Stalin and his successors the task was almost impossible. This music represents in microcosm this rebuilding process. Panufnik stands as one of its prime architects. He was Poland’s leading composer and conductor throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Although Lutosławski was highly regarded he is more of an international figure. Panufnik, although moving toEngland in 1954, always seems to have retained much that was Polish as this CD testifies.

One of the best composer autobiographies ever is ‘Composing Myself’ (Methuen, London, 1987). It is Panufnik’s life story told with colour and with aching truthfulness. In it he tearfully points out how all of his very early music - that written up to his thirties - was destroyed when Warsaw was destroyed. He recounts how he had to start his professional life from scratch after the war. Later he was to come to England for good. I met him once at his comfortable home by the Thames in Twickenham. I was taken by a priest friend and remember little except that the composer talked of the evil of the regime and “how” (I wrote in my diary) Rustica - that is the Sinfonia Rustica of 1948 - was decried, no longer to exist and how some composers cracked under the suppression.

When you hear the ‘Hommage to Chopin’ on this disc you are very near both in time and sound to the ‘Sinfonia Rustica’. Panufnik makes no attempt to write a piece in the style of Chopin or to use any Chopin melodies. He simply writes in his own style. It must also be remembered that the war also annihilated the original ‘Chopin Salle’ now thoughtfully and beautifully reconstructed. Similarly razed to the ground was the Chopin Museum which, incidentally, containsthe wonderful cast of Chopin’s hand. All of this is right on Panufnik’s doorstep and very much a part of his inheritance.

So how should we hear this music? Perhaps a good starting point is to consider Warlock’s Capriol Suite for strings which uses Renaissance melodies. The opening work here is the five movement Old Polish Suite, also for strings, which uses traditional dances and ancient melodies. It comes out the same duration as the Warlock. You might also consider Respighi’s Ancient airs and dances whilst listening to the Concerto in Modo Antico. This is scored for trumpet, timpani, two harps, harpsichord and strings and falls into several sections using melodies from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Rather curiously and annoyingly it is allotted only one track. Nevertheless the tunes are quite contrasted and well chosen by the composer to be memorable.

Finally the Jagiellonian Triptych is a short work of just three movements. It is a stylistic pastiche. The title refers to an imaginary altar piece. The whole work was written in England, steeped in nostalgia and is imaginary of a past Poland. This was quite appropriate as it was commissioned to be performed in London at a concert to celebrate the Millennium of Polish Christianity. The rather homophonic middle movement sounds something like a solemn hymn.

This is an altogether curious disc. The music is by a composer of considerable stature demonstrating a side facet of his work that has, up until now, been almost entirely unknown. Performances both by the orchestra and the soloists are excellent, stylistically aware and tempi seem to be most suitable. The recording is vivid and brings the music to life.

Philip Clark
Classic FM, March 2007

Living under the cosh of a totalitarian regime, Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik appeased the authorities in the 1940s by restoring remnants of ancient folklore into all singing, all dancing works for strings. Today the pieces have weathered remarkably well, with the bouncy moto perpetuo rhythms of Old Polish Suite, Concerto in Modo Antico and Jagiellonian Triptych hinting at Stravinskyian neoclassicism and sounding not unlike Tippett's formative string music. Old Polish Music, however, is probably the pick of the pack - ferociously busy string writing pushes his source material to the max. To conclude, the piquant harmonies of Hommagea Chopin (1966) typify Panufnik's mature style.

Hubert Culot
MusicWeb International, February 2007

During the difficult years of the Stalin era, composers who were unwilling to comply with the regime’s dictates had to find other ways to express themselves if they wanted to remain true to their artistic ideals. Lutoslawski turned to Poland’s folk music and composed a number of works either based on folk-tunes or using folk-inflected tunes. That period of Lutoslawski’s composing life culminated in the superb Concerto for Orchestra. Panufnik, too, had to find his own way out. He began exploring Poland’s more recent but largely unknown musical past: music composed between the 14th and 18th centuries. That is what all but one of these pieces set out to do. The sole exception is the Hommage à Chopin based on folk music from Mazowsze where Chopin was born rather than on themes by Chopin. Moreover, all but one of these pieces were composed in the years following the end of World War II. All these works were revised or re-composed in 1955, and thus belong to Panufnik’s early career. Panufnik went into some detail about the reason he composed these works. He witnessed the reconstruction of 16th and 17th century houses in the old part of Warsaw, which had been destroyed during the uprising at the end of World War II. “I felt a strong desire to undertake a similar task with fragments of Polish vocal and instrumental music of the same centuries which had suffered near oblivion.”

The earliest work here is the Divertimento after Janiewicz based on string trios by Felix Janiewicz (1762–1848) who as a young violinist came to England and became a founder member of the Royal Philharmonic Society. These lovely arrangements are for strings only.

In both the Old Polish Suite (“Suita Staropolska”) and the Concerto in Modo Antico, Panufnik does more or less the same thing as Warlock in his Capriol Suite or Respighi in his Antiche Arie e Danze per Liuto, although Panufnik’s scoring for small forces is rather more subtle than Respighi’s sometimes opulent palette. In fact, Old Polish Suite is scored for strings; Concerto in Modo Antico is scored for trumpet, timpani, two harps, harpsichord and strings. Though composed several years later, in 1966, the Jagiellonian Triptych is roughly based on remaining material from that gathered for the Old Polish Suite. It was written for a London concert celebrating the Millennium of Polish Christianity and Statehood. It is thus in much the same vein as the earlier works and is a quite different piece than the much better known and considerably more ambitious Sinfonia Sacra.

Hommage à Chopin is the orchestration for flute and strings made in 1966 of an eponymous piece subtitled Five Vocalises for soprano and piano, first performed in Paris by Irene Joachim and Paul Collard. As already mentioned, the music is deliberately based on folk music from the part of Poland where Chopin was born rather than on themes by Chopin. This gives the music a most welcome healthy rustic flavour.

It would be idle to claim that these pieces greatly deepen our appreciation of Panufnik’s lifelong achievement, but these arrangements are all done with taste, subtlety and – most importantly – affection. Some are little known, and three had never been recorded before, which is enough for this release to be a must for all Panufnik admirers. Others will of course find a lot to enjoy here. Performances and recording are very fine. A lovely disc.

David Hurwitz, February 2007

Andrzej Panufnik's music seems not to be garnering much continued attention in the decade and a half since his death in 1991. He was a very accomplished composer, and much of what he wrote is well worth a listen, even the tough stuff. There is certainly no tough stuff here! All of these works are based on the music of centuries past (including folk music) and they are extremely enjoyable as well as immaculately crafted. The Old Polish Suite and Jagiellonian Triptych bring to mind such pieces as Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances (and sounds quite similar in places), while the Concerto in Modo Antico takes the Baroque concerto grosso concept and applies it to a very modern ensemble of trumpet, two harps, harpsichord, and strings.

The Divertmento pays homage to the music of the 18th century (Stravinsky's Pulcinella comes to mind this time), while the Hommage à Chopin, for flute and strings, calls on folk music from the region of Chopin's birth: a happy inspiration and quite different from yet another orchestration of some of the more famous piano pieces.

The performances here are uniformly fine, with Mariusz Smolij getting lively and affectionate playing from the Polish Chamber Orchestra, and Igor Cechoco proving a sensitive trumpet soloist in the concerto. Naxos' sonics flatter the largely string-based sonority of these works. Even if you've never heard of Panufnik and generally shy away from the 20th-century avant-garde, do not shy away from this really attractive and lovable disc.

Jeff Simon
The Buffalo News, December 2006

When World War II stopped making his musical life impossible (all the compositions of his first 30 years were destroyed in the 1944 Warsaw ghetto uprising), Stalin's post-war "socialist realism" took up the slack, thereby forcing Andrzej Panufnik to flee to England, where he was knighted, just before his death at age 77 in 1991. These works were mostly written in England - originally in 1947 to restore fragmented music from the 16th to 18th centuries to a performable state just as "beautiful 16th and 17th century houses in the old part of Warsaw" were reconstructed after wartime devastation. It is, often then, a love of homeland from afar. If anything, these pieces resemble Respighi's orchestral "Ancient Airs and Dances" from old lute music and have a lot of that charm and irresistibility. They're superbly played by the Polish Chamber Orchestra.

Giv Cornfield, Ph.D
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, December 2006

A thoroughly delightful disc, consisting of all the postwar works based on ancient Polish music that Panufnik had written. He left his native Poland in protest against Soviet controls imposed on composers and settled in England. His works include ten symphonies and concertos commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin and Mstislav Rostropovitch. The collection presented here is a pleasant melodic surprise, played with devotion and superbly recorded.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group