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David Hurwitz, March 2015

The Second Cello Concerto…is terrific, a large piece recognizably in the composer’s later, neo-romantic style…and it’s very well played by soloist Tatjana Vassiljeva, who attacks her virtuosic part absolutely fearlessly. You also always can count on Wit and his Polish forces to deliver the goods, particularly in Penderecki, and they don’t disappoint. © 2015 Read complete review

James L Zychowicz
MusicWeb International, April 2012

The two concertos collected on this disc are intense works for solo instruments and orchestra. Both were composed around the same time. Both are continuous, with the series of sections approximately the same: seven for the Viola Concerto and eight for Cello Concerto no. 2. The performances recorded here are compelling for the intensity they evoke.

Of the two, the Viola Concerto merits attention as an excellent twentieth century contribution to the genre. In contrast to the conventional multi-movement structure associated with concertos, this continuous score stands apart on account of the drive it sustains from the opening section to the final one. At its core is the alternation between the contrasting passages for solo instrument and full orchestra. There is a real interplay of textures here and Penderecki’s ideas emerge from the sonorities at the opening for solo instrument and from the initial passage for orchestra. While the work starts and ends in a solemn, somewhat somber mode, the contrasting sections suggest arch-form. The impression is underlined by the Scherzo-like passages in the Meno mosso and Vivo sections. Those passages have a lighter character which allows soloist Grigori Zhislin to demonstration his facility and Wit to shape the entire piece convincingly.

A more extroverted work, Penderecki’s Cello Concerto no. 2 is impressive for its powerful musical invention. Part of the attraction is the way in which the timbres and musical ideas fit each other so well. The idiomatic character of the solo part adroitly and effectively complements the character of the cello. Within the eight sections of this Concerto, Penderecki plays on the outlines of conventional structure to evoke the sense of a sonata movement; thus the slow introduction leads naturally to the Vivo that comes after it. While breaking from conventional concerto format, Penderecki establishes other structural relationships. This approach allows him to renew the role of the cello, playing, at times on concertante-like sections, as with the Allegretto. This is an engaging work that invites re-hearings to appreciate more thoroughly the various elements of the solo line, the orchestral voice, and the various intersecting combinations of instruments.

This recording offers a side of Penderecki which deserves hearing. While the two works collected here are not of the same magnitude, the composer’s use of various sections to create new structures anticipates the ways in which he would do this on a larger scale in his Seventh Symphony “The Gates of Jerusalem”. In the two concertos found here, though, the works are more contained and they are well worth exploring. © 2012 MusicWeb International

MusicWeb International, January 2012

This is a compelling addition to the already impressive series of Naxos CDs devoted to the music of one of Europe’s most important living composers.

In character both works are certainly darksome, a sense of menace never far off—perhaps a reflection of difficult times in communist Poland. The bleak, eerie strings-only opening of the Second Cello Concerto is particularly memorable: the work was written for and premiered by Mstislav Rostropovich and is as relentlessly Cimmerian as any Penderecki, or any other composer for that matter, has written. Confrontational, multi-climactic and superbly scored, this is one of Penderecki’s key works. The Viola Concerto is…stylish and accessible, providing also a convenient route into the sterner challenges of the Cello Concerto.

Guided by the expert but still underrated Antoni Wit, the excellent Warsaw Philharmonic give surely award-winning accounts of these demanding scores. The Russian soloists are majestic too: intuitive, expressive and virtuosic.

Sound quality is very good….for anyone new to Penderecki, but perhaps familiar with Shostakovich’s symphonies and concertos, this disc is an ideal place to begin what should be a thrilling exploration. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Culture Catch, January 2012

Culture Catch Best of 2011: #16

Naxos’s Penderecki series is Wit’s finest legacy so far: Poland’s best living conductor at the service of its top living composer. Cellist Vassiljeva and especially violist Zhislin also excel here. © 2012 Culture Catch See complete list

David W Moore
American Record Guide, January 2012

These two concertos make a good program…the…release is beautifully recorded… © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online

Stephen Schwartz, December 2011

the emotional arc of the music—is absolutely masterful, moving in and out of instability, ennui, and aggression, and always with no section outstaying its welcome…No complaints at all about the performances…The recorded sound is fine, well within current audio standards. © 2011 Read complete review

David Fanning
Gramophone, November 2011

Fine performances…

To read the complete review, please visit Gramophone online.

Customer/Personal Review, October 2011

When I come into contact with a recording of a Penderecki piece I’m not familiar with, I usually stand in awe and put it to one side before I get to give it a listen. This is because I still think of his work as being somewhat inaccessible and difficult. In this case I have lingered even longer because I had it in the back of my mind that if I didn’t make a decent fist of reviewing this CD, I’d probably give up reviewing as a bad job for good [if you see what I mean!]

So encouraged by a recent remark by one Mr Daniel Marcus Clark, musician, poet/songwriter and storyteller extraordinaire that he’d missed reading my reviews as they’d given him some enjoyment in the past, I decided to wait for a day when I had satisfied myself that I could write something and be at least half pleased with it and then get out the Penderecki and give it a shot. That day has come…

…and do you know what? I’m not finding listening to the disc and finding something intelligent [at least I think so] to say too difficult at all. I have taken the easy route. Instead of listening from the start which means tackling the Viola Concerto first, I’ve kicked off with the Cello Concerto as this is my favourite classical instrument [possibly excluding timpani and gongs] and number the Elgar and Dvorak cello concertos among my favourite works.

The work is almost easy listening by Penderecki standards. Yes it resounds with all sorts of squeaks and honks, and vast sudden differences in volume and intensity, as one might reasonably expect from this composer but the flow of the piece seems to fall into something of an easily identifiable ‘narrative’ which leaves one feeling empathetic with and uplifted by the writer’s intentions even before reading the programme notes to see if it’s actually about anything in particular, which I will leave you to find out for yourself.

The Viola Concerto starts off with an altogether darker, I might say even morose, vibe about it. We’re in far more familiar Penderecki country here. But even here there is excitement and storytelling—an almost filmic approach to composition, I feel. I ’d love to see the short movie of this one—even in a purely abstract form—you know—one of those 50/60s jumpy black and white arthouse things with all squiggles and dots interspersed with underexposed flashes of pervy men in raincoats and trilby hats peering round doors into darkened rooms…

Getting back to some sort of reality—I think this is just about the most instantly accessible album by Penderecki I’ve come across—and would recommend it on the strength of this alone—it would make a gentle introduction to a very complex and sometimes downright difficult composer who is well worth the effort getting to know. Further than that, the sound quality is top notch and the performance is great too. If I were the star-awarding type, I’d have no hesitation in giving this one five., October 2011

Grigori Zhislin plays with fervor and emotional involvement, and Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic provide strong and nuanced backup. They are equally fine accompanists for Tatjana Vassiljeva in Penderecki’s Cello Concerto No. 2 (1982), which was written for Mstislav Rostropovich.

Blair Sanderson, October 2011

Penderecki employs much of the same dissonant counterpoint and modified tonality that Bartók, Shostakovich, and other tonal modernists used, so his style is quite identifiable within the mainstream of 20th century concert music: moderately daring but recognizable within the symphonic tradition. This familiarity allows violist Grigori Zhislin and cellist Tatjana Vassiljeva a high degree of expressive freedom and immediacy that audiences can respond to, and Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra are able to provide accompaniment that communicates and enhances the soloists. All the same, the mood of these concertos is quite somber and serious, and the harsh clusters Penderecki employs in the early stage of the Cello Concerto No. 2 may remind listeners that this is, after all, the composer of the Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, and he occasionally shows his roots. Naxos provides fine reproduction in these 2008 studio recordings from Warsaw Philharmonic Hall.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2011

Krzysztof Penderecki’s virtuoso viola and cello concertos date from the 1980’s when such scores had become unfashionable in the world’s music establishments. But he had already shown little regard for vogues, having, much to the consternation of modernists, turned his back on ritualistic atonality. Having made that statement, he was retrenching with a fusion of lyricism from the past and a harmonic language for a new generation audience. The Second Cello Concerto came in response to a request from Mstislav Rostropovich, its eight linked movements having a continued organic growth, the cello at times in conflict with the vibrant colours of the orchestra and struggles to be heard above their high impact scoring. When those moments die away, the instrument is left to sing, often in a melancholic mode. The work has opened in one of the composer’s most quite and inspired moments, that same material reappearing in a central Lento that begins in peace and ends in an animated state that readily leads to a mercurial Allegretto. The work ends in the opening’s haunting sounds. Completed the following year, in 1983, the Viola Concerto’s success led to two further versions with cello and clarinet replacing the viola. Its format replicates the cello concerto in its seven linked movements with marked changes of mood. With the viola proactive, the orchestra have a multicoloured partnership that offers a work of immediate attraction. It is performed by Russian-born, Grigori Zhislin, who, with the composer conducting, gave the work’s European premiere. It is a quite staggeringly brilliant account, his dexterity shared by Tatjana Vassiljeva in the Cello Concerto. The Warsaw Philharmonic, under the baton of Antoni Wit, reveal every detail in one of the most desirable Penderecki discs in the catalogue. The sound engineering is fabulous.

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