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Robert R. Reilly, May 2009

If you love the cello, Naxos’s new release of Krzysztof Penderecki’s works for cellos and orchestra will enrich your summer. His Concerto Grosso No. 1 from 2000 is full of doleful, gorgeous sounds from three cellos. It is wonderfully rich and phantasmagoric in places. It closes with a meltingly lovely adagio. The Largo for Cello and Orchestra from 2003 also features a drop-dead beautiful, keening lament. Penderecki is still working at the top of his neo-Romantic vein.

David W Moore
American Record Guide, March 2009

Time was when Krzysztof Penderecki (b 1933) was the sort of composer your ears approached with caution. He was always expressive, but often abstract in tonality and dealt more in sounds than in music as she is ordinarily wrote. In the romantic revival of the 70s, his music changed character, and now it is quite ear-catching and attractive.

The timings are surprising: a 35-minute Concerto Grosso for three cellos and full orchestra lends new significance to the title. So does the following Largo that turns out to be a three-movement cello concerto, none of whose movements are labelled Largo in any way, shape, or form. Finally comes a Sonata, actually two movements for cello and orchestra in Penderecki’s earlier, more threatening style, making Monighetti, the soloist, sound decidedly, deliberately out of tune. So does everyone else in this mercifully short and yet enjoyably zany piece, crossing the sound barrier in all possible ways.

Altogether, this is a program containing much beauty and imagination, the latest addition to Naxos’s extensive collection of Penderecki. The cellists are well known and give a fine account of the music, as does the also familiar conductor and orchestra. The recorded sound is rich and effective, and Penderecki has plenty to tell us.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, January 2009


Unlike most contemporary composers, Polish-born Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933) compositional style has become increasingly romanticized as he's aged. That's certainly true of the three works for cello(s) and orchestra on this release where the earliest dating from 1964 is decidedly avant-garde, while the most recent from 2003 is quite romantic.

The disc begins with Concerto Grosso No. 1 for 3 Cellos and Orchestra completed in 2001, which many will find a modern day masterpiece. A little over half an hour, it's in a single span consisting of six interconnected movements, and very much in the late romantic mold. It opens hesitantly with just the orchestra, but the soloists soon make dramatic appearances. A sprightly passage that may call to mind the opening of Shostakovich's first symphony (1923-24) follows [track-1, beginning at 05:18], and then two rather militaristic movements spiked with threatening percussive effects. A lovely notturno where the cellos serenade one another is next, and then an exciting extended allegro with a thrilling triple cadenza for the soloists. This carries the listener right into the meditative finale, which is similar in spirit to the closing measures of Shostakovich's last symphony (No. 15, 1971), and ends the concerto with a sense of resigned inner peace.

Despite its name, the Largo for Cello and Orchestra dating from 2003 is a full-blown concerto that was commissioned by the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007). The most romantic sounding work here, it lasts almost half an hour and is in three movements played without interruption. The gorgeous rhapsodic opening adagio has "celestal" touches [track-7, beginning at 07:28] suggestive of the first movement ending from Shostakovich's fifth symphony. The following andante is notable for an opening chorale-like motif and moments of great agitation, which the cello assisted by the celesta and woodwinds eventually manage to pacify. The final adagio is for the most part soul-searching except for one brief militaristic foray, and brings the work to a reverential conclusion.

In two highly contrasting movements that are more like happenings, the eleven-minute Sonata for Cello and Orchestra written in 1964 is the most progressive music here. It's a symphonic house of horrors where the cello is pursued by orchestral monsters and demons. The opening is a gradual descent into the infernal regions where dissonance, quarter tones and what sound like aleatory devices reign supreme. The finale is a study in rhythmic pandemonium full of bizarre string effects, gnashing percussion and leonine brass. What this music lacks in beauty it certainly makes up for in novelty, and there's never a dull moment!

While cellists Ivan Monighetti, Arto Noras and Rafal Kwiatkowski are not that well-known, they may become so in the future because they play up a storm! The support provided by the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Antoni Wit couldn't be more accomplished. And that’s saying a lot because the music here ranges from lushly romantic to harshly modernistic, requiring great flexibility from all of the performers concerned.

The recordings are fabulous! A perfectly proportioned soundstage in a complementary venue (the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall) plus ideal instrumental placement as well as balance are the order of the day. The instrumental timbre is totally natural over the entire frequency spectrum, which is extensive as the Sonata... calls for a huge orchestra with an astonishing array of exotic percussion. Besides providing us with some very interesting music, this is a demonstration disc par excellence.

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, December 2008

If, like me, you think of Penderecki, especially in his more recent compositions, as the acceptable face of the avant-garde, even as a bit of an old romantic at heart, you’ll enjoy most of his music on this recording. 

For those who are as yet unacquainted with Penderecki, or have heard that he’s a bit of a tough nut to crack, I don’t wish to lead you to expect some kind of easy-listening experience, but you should find the music worth the effort.  And if you like what you hear, you can move on to the other Naxos recordings directed by Antoni Wit, advertised on the tray insert. 

The very title of Concerto Grosso No.1 indicates a conscious harking back on Penderecki’s part to pre-classical models.  In fact, the music which springs most readily to mind is not the baroque concerto, so much as Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra; it may not be in quite that class, but it’s music with a ready appeal without being in any way facile.  I’ve seen the work described as formulaic and over-extended, but I don’t share those feelings.  Pitting three cellos against the orchestra may seem like overkill and it’s certainly hard to distinguish the three instruments separately or to appreciate what the notes describe as Penderecki’s full use of the interplay between them and the orchestra—the recording is good, though a little too thick-textured, up-close and personal for my liking—but I enjoyed both the music and the performance.  The rhapsodic finale (track 6) makes a first-rate impression.

The Largo for Cello and Orchestra of 2003 is actually a three-movement concerto, one of Rostropovich’s last commissions; he gave the première performance in 2005.  Ironically, though two of the movements are marked Adagio, none is actually a Largo.  It says what it has to say more concisely than the Concerto Grosso, and is all the better for that; some listeners will consider its inclusion the major attraction of the new recording.  It’s certainly a more challenging work, especially the impassioned central sections of the Andante con moto second movement (tr.8) and the Adagio finale (tr.9), but it is well worth the effort.  If you can cope with Shostakovich, especially his second and more enigmatic Cello Concerto, you should be able to take this music in your stride.

The Cello Sonata of 1964 is a short and comparatively lightweight piece, though scored for a large orchestra, with a battery of percussion.  It consists of two movements without tempo indications, neither of which seems to me quite as playful as the notes claim.  I have to admit that I found it rather pointless, too experimental and posturing for my liking and, therefore, the least enjoyable item on the disc.  Just to show how unpredictable a thing the appreciation of music can be, as I close this review I’ve just read another review of this CD which claims the Cello Sonata as the most impressive work of the three!

Apart from Arto Noras, who is especially effective in the Largo, I hadn’t encountered any of the cello soloists before but they and the orchestra give good accounts of themselves under the safe guidance of Antoni Wit, whose presence in this music is almost a guarantee of quality.

None of these works is claimed as receiving its première recording, but I haven’t been able to track down any other versions in the current catalogue.

The notes, by Richard Whitehouse, are brief but to the point.  The recording, as I have indicated in the Concerto Grosso, is a little too close and resonant throughout, with the soloists particularly forward, but perfectly acceptable.  The cover art, as usual with Naxos, is very apt.

You might not choose this as your favourite late-night listening—it’s perhaps a little too unsettling for that—but the new recording represents a welcome addition to Naxos’s already valuable repertoire of Penderecki’s music.

Arnold Whittall
Gramophone, December 2008

Arto Noras is an eloquent soloist in Largo, and all the other performers emerge with credit in recordings that tend to home in on the soloists while maintaining a rather resonant acoustic.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2008

New works from Penderecki find him passionately embracing tonality that is newly dressed to meet the mood of the 21st century. Having established a reputation as one of the radical composers in the late 1950s, his scores quickly secured a place among avant-garde modernists. He then surprised the musical world by his return to a populist style of composing that has become increasingly listener-friendly. The First Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos and Orchestra was completed in 2000, its five interlocking movements returning to the original concept of that title. Using a large orchestra that is often broken down into small chamber groups, the three cellos are seen as both soloists and members of the orchestral texture. Using animated tempos, the second and third movements have a close affinity with Shostakovich in their use of percussion to create a pseudo military march. Even the Notturno movement has a powerful emotional basis, and the feeling of strength running through the score again erupts at the outbreak of the extended fifth movement. The turbulence eventually ends in the final adagio, though you have the feeling that it is only offering temporary peace. Two great names of long standing, Ivan Monighetti and Arto Noras, are joined by the acclaimed young Polish cellist, Rafal Kwiatkowski, their combined show of technical expertise coping with the composer’s extreme demands. Noros continues with the Largo for Cello and Orchestra from 2003, a score where contemplation often gives way to agitation, while Ivan Monighetti is heard in the 1964 Sonata for Cello and Orchestra, a work that predates the composer’s conversion As I have written before, the Warsaw National Philharmonic under Antoni Wit stands with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras as the finest in Western Europe. The impact, detail and sheer brilliance is remarkable, and the recording is in the demonstration zone.

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