Wednesday 24 May 2017

Colour and movement: music by Tomasz Opałka

Tomasz Opałka - Emerge - Warner Classics
Tomasz Opałka Collisions of the matter, Symphony No. 2 - Emerge, D.N.A. Bass Clarinet Concerto, Quadra; Jadwiga Czarkowska, Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra / Krzysztof Slowinski, Warsaw Philharmonic Artists 'Chamber Orchestra of the Chain X Festival' / Wojciech Michniewski, Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Lukasz Borowiczl Warner Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 17 2017
Star rating: 4.5

High energy and brilliant orchestral colour in these four symphonic works by the young Polish composer

On this disc from Warner Classics, the young Polish composer Tomasz Opałka's music emerges with vigour and energy, immediately commanding attention. The disc contains four of Opalka's recent orchestral works, Collisions of the matter (2012) and Symphony No. 2- Emerge (2014) performed by the Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra, conducted by Krzysztof Slowinski, D.N.A. Bass Clarinet Concerto (2012) performed by Jadwiga Czarkowska (bass clarinet), Warsaw Philharmonic Artists 'Chamber Orchestra of the Chain X Festival', conductor Wojciech Michniewski, and Quadra (2007) performed by Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conductor Lukasz Borowicz.

Tomasz Opałka (Photo Marta Karska)
Tomasz Opałka (Photo Marta Karska)
Opałka (born 1983) studied composition under prof. Krzysztof Baculewski at the Fryderyk Chopin Music University in Warsaw, after graduating in 2013 he further developed his skills in composition and orchestration in Los Angeles, working with leading film composers including Christopher Young and Marco Beltrami. Since 2012 he has divided his activity between concert and film music, between Warsaw and Los Angeles.

The music on this disc often has a complex theoretical underpinning (that of the bass clarinet concerto uses Lutoslawski's chain techniques and DNA sequencing), but what comes over to the listener is the immediacy and vibrant energy of the music. That Opalka has worked in film music might be apparent from some of the techniques he uses, but he certainly does not shy away from complexity.

Collisions of the matter was written in 2012. The CD booklet talks about the leitmotif of the piece being specific sequences using 12-tone scales enriched with quarter-tones. The collisions of the title refer to the impacting of musical material, juxtaposing contrasting elements. But what really hits the listener from the word go is the high energy drive of the piece. The orchestral writing is full of impetus with a superb use of orchestral colour, and these are characteristics of Opałka's writing on all four pieces on the disc. There is a fabulous glitter to the multi-layered orchestration, and the work really pulls you along for its 12 minutes.

Symphony No. 2 - Emerge was written in 2014 and dedicated to the Polish composer and conductor Wladyslaw Slowinski, the work is written for large orchestra with five percussionists utilising an extended percussion section. It opens with a sense of quiet, atmospheric stasis but still with a feeling for orchestral colour as the piece develops, the opening section seems to be arc shaped starting and ending with nothing. Though there are lyrical episodes and rapturous episodes later on, the sense is of constant energy and forward motion. Towards the end calm tries to return, only to be hammered out though in the end we finish as we began. There are always clear layers of material, Opałka using different orchestral groups moving at different pitches and speeds.

D.N.A. Concerto for Bass Clarinet and Ensemble dedicated to the clarinettist on this disc, Jadwiga Czarkowska, and was commissioned by The Witold Lutoslawski Society for the Jubliee edition of the Chain Festival duing Lutoslawski's centenary year. In this piece Opałka uses a modified form of Lutoslawski's chain technique but this time using DNA chains. The solo clarinet emerges alone out of nothing, and at first is simply interrupted by the ensemble, with the clarinettist sometimes resorting to extended techniques. It is not long before a sense of energy and drama emerges, and the soloist sometimes disappears from view but always re-emerges. Again there is the feeling of the different groups in the orchestra being used in multiple layers, with different layers having different rates of forward momentum. The whole piece has a strong sense of drama, with some terrific playing from Czarkowska, ending in glorious high nrg mode.

The final work on the disc is the earliest, Quadra written for orchestra in 2007 before Opałka started his studies with Baculewski. It won second prize (no first prize was awarded) in the Karol Szymanowski International Composers Competition. The orchestra is a standard symphony orchestra, butwith 22 percussion instruments. Opalka's strong sense of orchestral colour is already developed in this piece, as is the feeling of energy and momentum.

I was completely new to Opalka's music and was very much bowled over by it. Its sense of energy makes very distinctive, but what really counts is the way that Opalka combines this with a real feeling for orchestral colour. It is impressive to have four substantial orchestral works under your belt and on disc, and the performances are all supremely engaging, particularly as they are all recorded live.

Tomasz Jakub Opałka (born 1983) - Collisions of the matter (2012) [13:03] (1)
Tomasz Jakub Opałka- Symphony No. 2: Emerge (2014) [19.50] (2)
Tomasz Jakub Opałka- D.N.A Bass Clarinet Concerto (2012) [16.52] (3)
Tomasz Jakub Opałka - Quadra (2007) [11.20] (4)
Jadwiga Czarkowska (bass clarinet) (3)
Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra / Krzysztof Slowinski (1,2)
Warsaw Philharmonic Artists 'Chamber Orchestra of the Chain X Festival' / Wojciech Michiewski (3)
Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra / Lukasz Borowicz (4)
Recorded live. (1) The Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Polish Radio, 11/5/2013; (2) The Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Polish Radio,10/5/2014; (3) The Warsaw National Philharmonic, 1/2/2013; (4) The Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio of Polish Radio,6/4/2008
WARNER CLASSICS 0190295883225 1CD [61.38]
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