I once asked Sir Andrzej Panufnik when we were going to get a modern recording of his Sinfonia Elegiaca (Symphony No. 2). His eyes widened in amazement: 'Do you know all my music?' he asked, adding 'Nobody knows that piece!' In fact, I only knew it through an obscure Louisville recording (still available on CD). Here it forms part of CPO's laudible survey of his most important orchestral works in a vivid digital recording of a performance that does full justice to this striking work. Coupled here are the much better known Sinfonia Sacra, with its antiphonal, apocalyptic trumpets thrillingly sounding from the four corners of the orchestra, and the late 10th Symphony (no title this time). The addition of No. 10 might seem arbitrary, but the piece does contain a number of elements present in the two earlier works, although by this time, emotional self-expression had long given way to a more detached, 'mathematical' approach. This is not to say No. 10 doesn't have impact (its opening bars certainly command attention!). Written between 1988 and 1990 for Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, it is, in its composer's words, a concerto for a virtuoso orchestra and is concerned with 'the beauty and mystery of geometry'.
The rarely-heard 'Sinfonia Elegiaca' (premiered by Leopold Stokowski) hails from 1957 and is dedicated to 'the victims of the Second World War'. It is very much a 'war requiem', from its sombre opening bars, through the jagged rhythms of the middle section (the idea reappearing in both the third and tenth symphonies) to the elegiac final section. We come full circle in this moving piece - a personal protest against man's inhumanity to man (of which Panufnik had ample experience in his own life). The composer revised the work a number of times and we must assume that this recording represents his final thoughts.
Sinfonia Sacra (Symphony No. 3) was written in 1963 as a tribute to Poland's millennium of Christianity and makes use of the Bogurodzica - an medieval hymn to Our Lady sung both in church and on battlefields. Like Sinfonia Elegiaca, it has a tripartite structure and its final section, 'Hymn', is basically a huge crescendo from near silence to a massive climax (here very well accomplished, with the crescendo in the trumpets in the final bar faithfully observed).
The performances of these symphonies by the Konzerthausorchester Berlin under Lukasz Borowicz are deeply committed and thrillingly recorded, No. 2 infinitely preferable to Robert Whitney's elderly 1961 recording, No. 3 a front-runner (more refined than Panufnik's own 1967 Monte Carlo recording and more exciting than his 1987 Concertgebouw account) with both the fortissimo trumpets and the pianissimo strings vividly caught and Michael Oberainger's arresting timpani solos packing a visceral punch, while Borowicz's No. 10 is more than worthy to stand alongside Kazimierz Kord's fine Warsaw Philharmonic version (sadly, Solti never recorded the work to my knowledge). It is to be hoped that these recordings will stimulate interest in Panufnik's music and lead to some long-overdue public performances.