Andrzej PANUFNIK (1914-1991)
Concertino for Timpani, Percussion and Strings (1979/80) [15:41]*
Sinfonia di Speranza (Symphony No. 9) (1986) [42:33]
Konzerthausorchester Berlin/Lukasz Borowicz
Michael Oberaigner (timpani), Christian Löffler (percussion)*
rec. 15-18 November 2011, Konzerthaus Berlin
CPO 777 685-2 [58:38]
The CPO label continues its valuable series of recordings by the great Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik. Collectors will need little persuading to add this title to their collections, and the performances are every bit up to the expected standard.
I’ve known the Concertino for Timpani, Percussion and Strings since spending £ 5.69 in Bath Classical Records in 1981 on a Unicorn-Kanchana DKP 9016 with a Panufnik programme by the London Symphony Orchestra. This was re-released with the excellent Sinfonia Sacra on Unicorn’s ‘Souvenir Series’, but you will only be able to find second-hand copies of this these days. An Alto or Regis re-release of those titles would be terrific. Of the two works on this CPO programme the Concertino is closest to ‘old-school’ Panufnik, with its beautiful Canto II movement, intensely dramatic Finale and distinctive rhythms and harmonies. It’s a shame the remarkable glissando timpani notes in the fourth Canto II movement aren’t allowed to speak much in the recorded balance. I was always taught not to use timpani as a melodic instrument, but Panufnik shows us how to ignore that rule to magical effect here. Otherwise this recording is a superbly detailed and atmospheric rendition of a masterpiece for percussion and orchestra.
In 1987 I was in my last year as a student at the Royal Academy of Music, and I remember comment on the Royal Festival Hall première of the Sinfonia di Speranza being somewhat muted. For those of us more used to earlier works such as the spectacular Sinfonia Sacra Panufnik’s later works had begun to sound a little too formulaic, but now with over 25 years distance it is easier to take a more objective view. Yes, this Ninth Symphony is more abstract than those earlier works, but if you are prepared to take the long view, appreciating the architecture of the symphony as a whole and assimilating its various sections in a cumulative way, then the power of the piece becomes irrefutable. Panufnik’s words are quoted in the booklet, elaborating on the symphony’s “continuous, flowing melodic line” and its various arcs, the whole examining “the laws of geometric optics, those mysterious hidden relations such as refractions within reflection and symmetries within symmetry.”
This CPO release divides the symphony into 17 tracks with rehearsal numbers as reference points, so further study with score to hand would be a fascinating exercise. With Panufnik you always have a sense of mystery and spiritual dimensions, and the Sinfonia di Speranza is no exception, with quiet sustained strings coloured by a muted harpsichord in some passages, the latter also adding celestial sparkle at other moments, and you can also expect full orchestral effects with rasping winds and brass. Panufnik’s “attempting to balance a severe, self-imposed technical discipline with an expression of  deeply felt emotions” is perhaps not an ideal place to commence an exploration of his work, but for those already infused with this musical idiom and approach the Symphony No. 9 will provide another richly rewarding journey.