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David Hurwitz, December 2008

Penderecki deserves a great deal of credit for turning his back on the avant-garde of the 1960s and '70s, recognizing much of it for the musical dead-end that it has turned out to be. Read full review at ClassicsToday

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, August 2008

…The recording quality on this disc is first class. My only problem concerns balance in the symphony's third movement (Eichendorffs "By a Lime Tree") where the baritone soloist is swamped by the orchestra towards the end. Drabowicz sings strongly, despite the tessitura sitting on the high side for him. (The CD is dedicated to the Polish baritone, who died in a car accident in 2007, exactly one year after the recording was made.) Tenor Minkiewicz easily negotiates his tricky lines in the Dies irae, and hits the right level of hysteria. All the soloists are excellent, and the Warsaw National Philharmonic under Wit provides solid support.

This CD is a must if you are collecting the series; the Eighth is more interesting and certainly more varied than the instrumental symphonies (with the exception of the First). The combination of early and late Penderecki is also intriguing—for their surprising points of similarity as much as for their contrast. Texts and translations are not provided, but are available on the Naxos Web site.

Robert R. Reilly, July 2008

This symphony is a setting of 19th and early 20th century German poems by Goethe, Rilke, and others, titled Songs of Transience. The settings are beautifully done, some of them quite haunting, which is not a surprise considering the subject matter. What is surprising is that most of this work would not have been out of place in the late 19thor early 20th century. Compare it to the hair-raising Dies irae from 1958, also on this disc, from Penderecki's avant-garde phase, and you will see how long a journey this composer has traveled.

Peter Bates
Audiophile Audition, February 2008

Krzysztof Penderecki has written his second choral symphony in a row and this time it’s a secular one (with brief religiosity). He bases his text on several different poets: the nature-worshiping Joseph von Eichendorff, the angelic Rainer Maria Rilke, the misanthropic Karl Kraus, the alienated Hermann Hesse, the redoubtable Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the arch-romantic Achim von Arnim.  These poets have displayed mystical or pantheistic strains in their poetry from time to time, which may explain Penderecki’s attraction to them. Musically, the Symphony No. 8 holds together as a post-romantic work, a shotgun marriage between Gustav Mahler and Dimitry Shostakovich. (Achim von Arnim even wrote Des Knaben Wunderhorn, later adapted to lieder by Mahler.) Penderecki’s music is intense here, yet less mannered and shocking than his earlier choral works. That doesn’t mean he avoids innovative and startling effects. Ende des Herbstes, for example, features eerie high register flutes and Sag’ ich’s euch, geliebte Baume spotlights a flighty soprano who screeches rhythmically while relating a dream “in the red of morning.” A forlorn Mahlerian horn invades the second occurrence of  Ende des Herbstes, but the best occurs in the last bars: a frightening choral ascent, slightly dissonant, accompanied by the words “the spirit in God expands/Endless is the path!”

Rounding off this disc is a fine performance of the composer’s modernistic Dies irae (a tribute to the victims of fascism). Be prepared for chatty Sprechstimme, human/ woodwind screams, sirens, and twittering crescendos. The earliest piece, Aus den Psalmen Davids, is a nine minute) choral work with striking rhythms and a reverential—and emphatic-- supplication as finale. There is no included text in the booklet. You must visit the Naxos web site for that, so fire up your PDF reader. Even then, there is no text for the Dies irae.  A pity, it would have been such fun to try to follow.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2008

If in your mind Penderecki’s name still conjures up a composer embroiled in musical radicalism, I beg of you to hear this deeply moving symphony. As we have progressed through his orchestral cycle from Naxos, I have chronicled Penderecki’s conversion from the darling of the avant garde movement to the point where he has restored a link with traditional tonal music. His Eighth Symphony from 2005 has almost completed that journey, the bridge back to the era surrounding Hindemith has been crossed, and I hope Penderecki will now show us the way forward from here. The symphony is created as a vocal setting of twelve late 19th and early 20th century German poems. It chronicles mankind’s passage through life, the music calling for soprano, mezzo and baritone soloists with large choir and orchestra. He has not altogether deserted that remarkable wide-range colour spectrum that he devised during those experimentalist years, but now employs it to augment his musical concept, and, as in the ninth movement, where it is adopted to good effect in a dramatic outburst. We eventually reach the final poem where we are searching for that ‘green tree’ in every heart that seeks out eternal life as we approach death, the choir eventually sliding into infinity.The disc returns to his roots in radicalism for the 1967 Dies irae, a work redolent with the devises he so skillfully used at the time, voices layered on top of the orchestral fabric. Now in hindsight its use at the unveiling of the monument to those who died in the Auschwitz concentration camp does express in sound the horror of the scene that was discovered. That understanding, however, does not make the music any less challenging to the listener. We go even further back for Aus den Psalmen Davids where the composer uses the title to do little more than set the scene for abstract music. The performances have that total commitment and deep understanding that conductor, Antoni Wit, has shown throughout, and now in charge of the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra, we have a superb ensemble who meet the composer’s demands with an unruffled virtuosity. Their choir is no less impressive, the soloists in both the symphony and Dies irae are outstanding, with a vocally fearless soprano in Michaela Kaune, though it is sad that the disc marks the subsequent death of the fine baritone, Wojtek Drabowicz. The recording from Warsaw’s Philharmonic Hall is in the superlative class, punchy, transparent and immaculately balanced.

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