Friday, July 13, 2012

Penderecki: Music for Chamber Orchestra

“The performances, conducted by the composer, are generally good...The recording flatters everything with generous resonance.” --BBC Music Magazine, June 2010 ****

As one of the most significant figures of modernism, Krzysztof Penderecki is immediately associated in the public mind with his groundbreaking compositions, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, St. Luke Passion, and De Natura Sonoris I and II, which were among the most innovative and challenging works of the 1960s and '70s. However, Penderecki adopted a neo-Romantic style that has dominated his music from the late '70s onward, and many of his pieces were composed for strings or small orchestra and last under 10 minutes.

This 2008 album by Penderecki and the Varsovia Symphony Orchestra explores some of his music from 1963 to 2005. There is one example of music from his avant-garde period, namely the Intermezzo for 24 strings (1973), which is a study of close-knit contrapuntal repetitions of short figures. 

Other than that, the music is fairly conventional in harmony and stylistically quite accessible to most listeners. The Pieces (3) in Baroque Style date from 1963 and may have the strongest appeal to casual classical listeners, but they are pastiches of 18th century style and have an artificial quality, unlike the rest of the selections that are recognizably Penderecki's from their predominantly minor-key tonality and brooding lyricism. 

Highlights of the album include the Chaconne in Memory of John Paul II, "De Profundis" from Seven Gates of Jerusalem, the Serenade for string orchestra, and the Sinfonietta per archi, which all give a balanced impression of Penderecki's expressive musical language and eclectic ideas in his post-modern phase. --Blair Sanderson

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