Krzysztof Penderecki’s piano concerto is a very recent work, first
in 2002 and then revised in 2007. It benefits greatly from his turn to a
romantic, tonal musical language. The concerto opens with a dramatic, dark
figure that isn’t dissimilar to Szymanowski or Prokofiev, for
this is developed with care by both piano and orchestra. The concerto is
so to speak: it constantly alternates between this angrier, more imposing
and quieter, subdued passages scored with great imagination - take the
movement’s passage for muted trombones, cor anglais, and piano. This
brings great drama to the piece and makes its ten movements progress
framed around appearances of a hymn which is one of the purest, most
and innocent creations of Penderecki’s career.
Barry Douglas premiered this revised version. His performance is
commanding, bearing out the booklet’s assertion that this is
Penderecki’s entry into the grand tradition of Rachmaninov and
Prokofiev. The Warsaw Philharmonic and Antoni Wit are as exemplary as you
might expect, too, capturing the music’s push and pull well, although
they can’t hide my main complaint about the extraordinary score:
Penderecki’s somewhat gratuitous use of percussion.
For a dessert we’re given a performance of the flute concerto,
with Lukasz Dlugosz giving a wildly colorful, fluent reading of the solo
part. The chamber-sized orchestra allows us to hear clearly
Penderecki’s skill at drawing exotic sounds from his ensemble (first
movement, 3:40). There’s even a spotlit moment for contrabassoon.
We start with a misleading clarinet solo, which becomes a dialogue,
and travel across several aggressive - or as the booklet says,
“harsh” - fast movements to a contemplative coda which brings
the piece to resolution on the final chord. Ultimately the concerto feels a
little pedantic, but the composer’s skill in orchestration makes it
interesting, and the performers’ undeniable energy bringing it off
make the concerto enjoyable. This dichotomy is best expressed by the brief
fourth movement, whose relentless dour drumbeat I found somewhat tiresome
even as I admired the fierce playing of the cellos and basses.
Recorded sound is good in both venues, the Warsaw
Philharmonic’s home concert hall offering a bit more reverberation.
The booklet notes are a nice guide, but I’d like to have known what
changes took place when the piano concerto was revised. Ultimately these
aren’t my top choices for an entryway to Penderecki’s
“neo-romantic” output; try the incredible horn concerto
, the surprising sinfoniettas
, and the sextet
. However the piano concerto is probably a
masterpiece, and this performance will be very, very hard to beat.
See also review by Leslie