This is a great start, not just to this cycle, but to anyone new to Penderecki. The bulk of the disc is the 45 minute Symphony No. 3, started in 1988 and completed in 1995. Like most of Penderecki's work of the last 30 years, it is very approachable and "neo-romantic", showing hints of everyone from Beethoven to Bruckner to Prokofiev, but mostly centering around Penderecki's unique and deeply personal style. It is certainly wild at times, with conductor Wit pushing the orchestra to its limits, but it is also highly melodic and memorable. Of special note is the virtuoso trumpet solo in the 2nd movement as well as the entire 3rd movement, an adagio that sits at the calm heart of the work; it reminds me of Bruckner with its glowing sonorities and long-breathed, expressive string melodies.
The second half of the disc takes us back to Penderecki's radical work of the 60s. The Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima is a modern classic, scored for 52 strings, though you will swear you hear woodwinds and percussion through Penderecki's revolutionary performance instructions. Their is little melody to be found in the work, but it is intense, harrowing, and gripping. Wit's performance may not be quite as wrenching as Penderecki's own with the same orchestra, but Wit brings out some details I had not heard in this dense score. The two remaining works, Fluorescences and De natura sonoris II, are not as intense as the Threnody, but are similar in their exploration of using unusual sounds in musical ways. Fluorescences features a brief appearance by a typewriter(!), the pounding on its keys in a catchy rhythmic pattern that will make you reassess where noise ends and music begins!
Special note has to go to conductor Antoni Wit and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra. They play these works like men possessed, adding to an already impressive recording resume that includes the orchestral works of Lutoslawski, and concertos by Shostokovich and Prokofiev.
Finally, a word of thanks to the recording company, Naxos. Penderecki has been underserved on CD, and I am glad to see any new recordings, let alone at budget price! Why it took this long to get a work as exciting, melodic, and expressive as the 3rd Symphony to reach CD is nearly criminal.
Needless to say, I highly recommended purchasing this disc.