I have been following this outstanding and rewarding Panufnik series
of symphonic works with great interest. I’m delighted that this
fifth volume is of the same elevated quality as the preceding issues.
Of all the composers active in the late-twentieth century Panufnik
for my money was one of the finest and certainly one of the most interesting.
Many composers of Panufnik’s generation such as Ligeti, Xenakis
and Penderecki have been their own worst enemies by frequently providing
off-putting explanations of their works. This type of intensely cerebral
description can be confusing and pretentious to the general listener.
Once all the highfalutin jargon is stripped away we are often left
with original and wonderfully absorbing music that can both stimulate
the head and delight the heart.
Of Berlin’s group of exceptionally fine orchestras the Berlin
Phil with its extraordinary place in twentieth century history and
massive promotional resources tends to get the lion’s share
of the publicity and accolades. One such orchestra is the Konzerthausorchester.
Founded in 1952 during Berlin’s partition the Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester
was located in the East Berlin side. The Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester
only changed its name to the Konzerthausorchester in 2006 taking the
name of its home at the Konzerthaus located in the Gendarmenmarkt
in the centre of Berlin. This CPO recording was made at the Konzerthaus
- formerly known as the Schauspielhaus. In the last couple of years
I have had the good fortune to attend concerts by the Konzerthausorchester
at the beautiful Konzerthaus with its striking interior design and
This CPO release commences with Metasinfonia
written in 1978 and scored for solo organ, timpani and string
orchestra. It is a type of organ concerto in a single continuous movement
with the word Meta
relating mainly to the transformation of
form. The word Sinfonia
pertains to the strict organic structure
of the work. One is immediately struck by the sinister, dark-hued,
dramatic and almost funereal tones of the organ. The massed string
sound gives the feeling of a massive flock of seabirds flying in formation
overhead. Maestro Borowicz secures an ominously austere effect from
the strings. It’s of such magnitude that it sends a chill down
the spine. I marvel at how Panufnik takes me effortlessly from one
episode of cinematic imagery to another. I assume that these are the
episodes that the composer is referring to when he mentions “chains
of meditative thoughts
”. As we are lead towards the conclusion
the percussion become more prominent. At 19:33-24:49 the part for
solo organ is highly virtuosic with Panufnik displaying the instrument’s
broad and colourful facility. Gradually the music becomes more weighty
and caliginous. Requiring a full orchestra, the ending evokes a sense
of dispiriting austerity. Maybe this was Panufnik’s way of delivering
an ominous warning about the future.
The Sinfonia Votiva - Symphony No.
8 bears a dedication to
the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, an icon displayed in the monastery
of Jasna Góra. Not only is the icon a focus of religious devotion
it has become a symbol of the Polish nation’s continued resistance
against invading powers. The two movement Votiva
ranks as a
peak in Panufnik’s output and is one of his most frequently
performed scores. At over seventeen minutes the substantial first
movement is marked Con devozione
winds and percussion dominate with strings at 7:09 acting as a soothing
balm. Gradually the strings fine down at 9:22 to single instruments
producing an even calmer and more meditative spirit. At 11:27 tension
builds alongside an uncomfortable sense of anxiety and isolation.
Low strings from 11:46 gradually appear over the shimmering violins
with the music taking on a variety of moods: a sense of peace and
tranquillity wins through. Considerably shorter than the first, movement
two, marked Con passione
), opens to thrilling
effect with sharp blasts of brass issuing over brisk and anxious high
strings. The percussion become increasingly conspicuous especially
the employment of bells that add to the ferocious shrieking and pounding
Commissioned by the players of the London Symphony Orchestra for its
75th anniversary the Concerto Festivo
was written in 1979.
Originally conceived as a short concerto Panufnik rejected the plan
and decided on a three movement concerto for orchestra designed to
show off the various sections of the orchestra. In addition the composer
wrote the score so it didn’t need a conductor.
Played by the brass instruments alone, the relatively short first
) concentrates on harmony and
melody. Borowicz ensures that this rhythmically incessant writing
just gallops along before ending abruptly.
Emphasising harmony and melody the central movement Lirico
) is affectionate and lyrical. The music is played
first on the string section, second on the woodwind and thirdly on
Played by the whole orchestra the third movement Giocoso
concentrates on rhythm and melody. Commencing with agitated percussion
this is bold, urgent sharply rhythmic music. Borowicz ensures abundant
vitality and exuberance. The abrupt ending comes as rather a surprise.
Magnificently played, Panufnik’s music could not have finer
advocates and the sound is cool, crystal clear and well balanced.
Indispensable listening for those interested in late-twentieth century
see also review by Rob