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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Symphonic Works - Volume 5
Metasinfonia - Symphony No. 7 for organ, timpani and string orchestra (1978) [25:57]
Sinfonia Votiva - Symphony No. 8 (1981; rev. 1984) [25:01]
Concerto Festivo for orchestra (1979) [15:52]
Michael Oberaigner (timpani) (Metasinfonia)
Jörg Strodthoff (organ) (Metasinfonia)
Konzerthausorchester Berlin/Łukasz Borowicz
rec. 26-28 October and 21 December 2010, Konzerthaus, Berlin, Germany
CPO 777 684-2 [67:13] 

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 splendid acoustics.
 
This CPO release commences with Metasinfonia - Symphony No. 7 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 (Andante rubato). Solo 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 (Allegro assai), 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 conclusion.
 
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 movement Pomposo (Allegro) 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 (Larghetto) is affectionate and lyrical. The music is played first on the string section, second on the woodwind and thirdly on the strings.
 
Played by the whole orchestra the third movement Giocoso (Prestissimo) 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 music.
 
Michael Cookson 

see also review by Rob Barnett

 


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