Award-winning Penderecki record simply compelling

Back in 1969, when Penderecki was still in his “avant-garde phase,” he had this to say: “The general principle at the root of a work’s musical style, the logic and economy of development, and the integrity of a musical experience embodied in the notes the composer is setting down on paper, never changes.
The idea of good music means today exactly what it meant always. Music should speak for itself, going straight to the heart and mind of the listener.”

Coming from a composer who had virtually abandoned conventional musical notation, preferring at times (e.g. 1961’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima) black bands of “clusters” or wavy lines, who seemed driven to stretch the instruments until they more resembled plummeting airplanes than instruments of any sort, this statement might seem a bit peculiar.

When I heard Penderecki’s Violin Concerto for the first time twelve years ago, I recall struggling to fit it into any musical context whatsoever.
But in the year 2008 the greatest surprise in listening to the Midem-award winning edition of Capriccio (1967), De Natura Sonoris II (1971) and the “Resurrection” Piano Concerto (2001/2002) is how much of this music one recognizes, and has to some extent been assimilated into the musical vocabulary a listener brings to a record.

The most impressive piece here is undoubtedly the opening Capriccio with stunning violin work by Patrycja Piekutowska (her work in the collection of Penderecki’s violin/piano chamber music, also put out by DUX, is another highlight of the current “special edition” of Penderecki’s work).
This is clearly a case of an award well chosen ? I cannot recall another DUX release in which both the soloist and the orchestra play with such passion.

Particularly in this first piece, there is an imperative quality to every phrase. The liner notes speak of the solo part as a “mockery of the classical cadenza,” however, and here I cannot agree; even in his avant-garde phase, as the quote at the top of the page would seem to suggest, Penderecki seldom strikes my ear as being ironic vis a vis tradition.

The “cadenza” in question resonates emotionally in a way that goes far beyond mockery, though it does carry the weight of historical trauma. Detractors have sometimes accused Penderecki of calling added attention to his music through the use of dramatic titles, linking his works to major historical tragedies (Auschwitz, Hiroshima).

The “Resurrection” Piano Concerto’s title was given in tribute to the events of Sept. 11, 2001 in America, where it was to have its premiere. The work was commissioned before the attack in New York; Penderecki changed the light-hearted Capriccio he was preparing into something more serious in nature.

I have not been troubled by his “tributes” in the past, but here it seems he stumbles at times in trying to express the gravity of his material. Near the end things become positively anthemic, church bells start ringing, and the phoenix comes flying up out of the ashes, as it were. All this has a certain logic, given that it was written for the birthplace of the “happy ending.” But there is a tone of falsity ? or at least a forced quality ? that is seldom found in Penderecki’s work.

Having said the above, the orchestra and soloist (Beata Bilinska is on piano) are again top-notch, and the opening of the piece has some wonderful ? and surprisingly melodic ? passages.
The piano concerto is a difficult genre, which the best of composers have struggled against and lost. All things considered, the work is a qualified success.

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