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Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b.1933)
Piano Concerto Resurrection (2001-02/2007) [31:20]
Flute Concerto, for flute and chamber orchestra (1992) [23:20]
Barry Douglas (piano)
Lukasz Dlugosz (flute)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, 17-18 June 2010 (Piano); Witold Lutoslawski Concert Hall, Polish Radio, Warsaw, 4-5 October 2010 (Flute). DDD
NAXOS 8.572696 [60:23]
Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b.1933)
Fonogrammi, for flute and chamber orchestra (1961) [6:55]
Przebudzenie Jakuba (The Awakening/Dream of Jacob) (1974) [9:29]
Anaklasis, for strings and percussion (1960) [6:39]
De Natura Sonoris I (1966) [8:51]
Partita, for harpsichord, electric guitar, bass guitar, harp, double bass and orchestra (1971/1991) [18:44]
Horn Concerto Winterreise (2008/2009) [18:15]
Urszula Janik (flute)
Jennifer Montone (horn)
Elzbieta Stefanska (harpsichord)
Michal Pindakiewicz (electric guitar)
Konrad Kubicki (bass guitar)
Barbara Witkowska (harp)
Jerzy Cembrzynski (double bass)
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, 28 August - 10 September 2008; 7 September 2009 (Partita); 14-15 June 2010 (Horn). DDD
NAXOS 8.572482 [68:52]
Krzysztof PENDERECKI (b.1933)
Three Olden Style Pieces (1963) [6:04]
Serenade, for strings (1996-97) [9:56]
*Sinfonietta no.1, for strings (1992) [14:02]
Intermezzo, for 24 strings (1973) [6:53]
Capriccio, for oboe and 11 strings (1964) [6:11]
Sinfonietta no.2, for clarinet and strings (1994) [15:02]
Artur Pachlewski (clarinet)
Jean-Louis Capezzali (oboe)
Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra / Antoni Wit
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, 6-24 September and 3 December* 2008. DDD
NAXOS 8.572212 [58:08]
Krzysztof Penderecki is much more than what Naxos stintingly call "arguably Poland's greatest living composer". The service rendered to posterity by the label, with a 20-plus Penderecki discography to their credit, is immeasurable. Such is their dedication to the cause that the three recordings under review here have all appeared in the last year.

The latest addition is a disc showcasing two of the composer's finest concertos, the ten-movement Resurrection for piano and the more intimately scored one for flute. With the inimitable Barry Douglas at the keyboard - he having given the premiere of Penderecki's revised score in 2007 - in the first and young Polish flautist Lukasz Dlugosz in the second, on paper these already look safe bets, especially with Antoni Wit directing his rarely unimpressive Warsaw Philharmonic. In practice, these works are masterpieces. The earthy, minatory Piano Concerto is one of the most exciting places to begin an exploration of Penderecki's music, although the Flute Concerto is arguably more accessible, being altogether gentler and, given Penderecki's earlier reputation, surprisingly tonal.
This release followed an equally imposing collection of orchestral works, first appearing last summer, and again starring the WPO under Wit. Penderecki's Horn Concerto is one of the many highlights - this is the composer newly turned more melodious, and the approachable Concerto is one of the finest for the instrument of the twentieth century.
Apart from the relatively 'tonal' Jacob's Awakening, however, the rest of that programme contains some of Penderecki's most demanding - some say 'notorious' - music. De Natura Sonoris, Anaklasis, Fonogrammi and the Partita date from a time when Penderecki was at the forefront of the post-war avant-garde. Richard Whitehouse's description of Anaklasis gives a good idea of what to expect from the CD as a whole: "Quiet discords alternate with brusque gestures, unfolding as a series of discreetly interconnected episodes for strings into which percussion gradually insinuates itself before taking over in a barrage of sound that, after an interlude for cymbals, builds to a vigorous climax." Penderecki has just added a third work to the two bearing the title De Natura Sonoris. As the Latin indicates, they are explorations of sound, though apparently focusing primarily on virtuosity and dynamics. There are several clamant passages, but, as with the composer's avant-garde works in general, the passing years seem to have rendered it rather less scary than audiences found it at the time. The named solo instruments in the Partita do not play a very prominent role, by the way - the presence of an electric guitar in particular may raise a few eyebrows, but its role is subtle rather than intrusive.
The programming of these Naxos Penderecki discs generally encourages listeners to sample the composer in both modernist and considerably more audience-friendly 'neo-traditional' mode - a good thing probably, but not to everyone's taste. An alternative rationale behind the compilations is hard to discern, a semi-exception being the collection of string orchestra works, with or without a solo instrument, released just over a year ago. That disc opens with the Three Olden Style Pieces, probably the composer's most popular work, and certainly one of the most frequently recorded. It is not hard to hear why - Penderecki all but shocked his fellow modernists at the time (1963) with this tuneful tribute to his musical heritage. With the exception of the creepy Intermezzo and stunningly virtuosic oboe Capriccio, the other works on this disc come from his back-to-tonality phase, making this one arguably the best place to start an exploration of this phenomenal composer.
At any rate, no one can criticise the standard of music-making on any of the three releases. Besides Douglas and Dlugosz there are stand-out individual performances from Urszula Janik, Jennifer Montone and Jean-Louis Capezzali. Above all, Wit and the WPO, totally at home in this uncompromising repertoire, combine to produce a series of outstanding performances, technically and expressively comparable to, sometimes even surpassing, those of Penderecki himself conducting different orchestras on EMI Classics and DUX.
All but the Flute Concerto were recorded in the Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, and sound quality is thus consistent, and good overall. Richard Whitehouse's usual excellent notes grace all three albums and provide details of related Naxos recordings the listener will undoubtedly be drawn to. Those still unsated by this Penderecki-fest only have to go back a few more months, for example, to find Naxos's recording of the Viola Concerto and Second Cello Concerto, comprising what was one of the finest releases of the year (review). The more adventurous on a tight budget can avail themselves of a Naxos 5-CD boxed set of Penderecki's seven symphonies and some choral works at a bargain price (8.505231) - again with Antoni Wit, this time mainly conducting the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. Elsewhere, and rather pricier, the Polish Dux label has its own unfolding 'Penderecki Special Edition', featuring orchestral, chamber and choral music - see this review for further details.
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