Wednesday 22 November 2017

Penderecki conducts Penderecki in Warner Classics

Penderecki conducts Penderecki
Penderecki conducts Penderecki - volume 2, choral music; Warsaw Philharmonic Choir, Krzysztof Penderecki; Warner Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 13 2017 Star rating: 4.5
A fine overview of Krzysztof Penderecki's choral writing, conducted by the composer

On this terrific new disc in Warner Classics' Penderecki conducts Penderecki series we have Krzysztof Penderecki conducting the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir (Chor Filharmonii Narodowej) in a wide selection of his choral music, from movements from the St Luke Passion to the Missa Brevis, the music ranges in date from 1962 to 2014.

We start with the unaccompanied movements from Penderecki's St Luke Passion of 1965, Stabat Mater, Ut quid, Miserere and In pulverem mortis. These are powerful, intense pieces, using all manner of vocal techniques with dark, angular and sometimes angry material. Despite the challenges (the St Luke Passion is almost entirely atonal) the choir give a remarkably concentrated performance which passages of remarkable sustained power, and moments of stupendous intensity.

There is the same concentration in Veni Creator (1987) with some strong, angular polyphonic lines. the sense of continuity in Penderecki's writing, for all his stylistic diversity, is indicated by the similarities of approach you can hear in Veni Creator, from 1987 and Psalm XXX (from the Psalms of David) from 1958, and Song of Cherubim of 1986. With Quid sum miser and Recordare (both from Dies Illa) and O Gloriosa Virginum from 2014 and 2009 we have more conventional choral writing, but it is no less concentrated and intense. The first disc finishes with a pair of recent Christmas songs, The Speckled Duck and We Also Shepherds, delightful and imaginative, with some lovely textures.

The second disc opens with Penderecki's Missa Brevis of 2002. Less complex in some ways (it was written for the 800th anniversary of St Thomas's Church in Leipzig to be performed by the boys choir), it is still tricky and full of interest. There is a lovely freshness to the music, and a clarity to texture in the modern polyphony. I could imagine it sung by a smaller choir, but the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir sing the work admirably.

The second disc finishes with a wide selection of Penderecki's smaller choral pieces. Again we are have quiet, intense and remarkably concentrated music with some powerful moments like the wrenching harmonies in the Agnus Dei from the Polish Reqiuiem or the intense chromaticism of the opening of De Profundis from the Seven Gates of Jerusalem.

The CD booklet provides a fine article on the music and biographies but no texts. A minor gripe is that the article treats the works in a vastly different order to that on the disc.

This is a terrific set, of importance because it gives us Krzysztof Penderecki's views of his own music and I presume it is his selection too. It benefits from fine performances from the Warsaw Philharmonic Choir, which make the set a delight to listen to. Perhaps not everyone will appreciate the way the unaccompanied choral movements have been wrenched from their surroundings, but overall this provides a superb overview of Krzysztof Penderecki's choral writing.

Krzysztof Penderecki (born 1933) - St Luke Passion (excerpts)
Krzysztof Penderecki - Veni Creator
Krzysztof Penderecki - Psalm XXX (Psalms of David)
Krzysztof Penderecki - Song of Cherubim
Krzysztof Penderecki - Dies Illa (excerpts)
Krzysztof Penderecki - O Gloriosa Virginum
Krzysztof Penderecki - We Also Shepherds
Krzysztof Penderecki - The Speckled Duck
Krzysztof Penderecki - Missa Brevis
Krzysztof Penderecki - Sicut locutus
Krzysztof Penderecki - Kaddish
Krzysztof Penderecki - Agnus dei (Polish Requiem)
Krzysztof Penderecki - Benedictum Dominum
Krzysztof Penderecki - De Profundis
Krzysztof Penderecki - Potocka's Grave
Krzysztof Penderecki - Aria (Three pieces in the old style)
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir (Chor Filharmonii Narodowej)
 Krzysztof Penderecki (conductor)
Recorded at Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall 12-14 May 2015, 1-2 February 2-16, 13 April 2016.
WARNER CLASSICS 01902 9 58195 5 2 2CDs [47.41, 46.46]
Available from Amazon.

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