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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Shaken but not stirred..., 11 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: The Symphonies and other Orchestral Works (Audio CD)
Two 'z's and 'k's: the very name means business, bespeaks authority. An all digital bargain set of 5 discs conducted by Naxos stalwart and Polish music specialist, Antoni Wit. The vivid toothpaste blue of the box makes a bold statement and it certainly stands out on the shelf next to the other P composers. Still, isn't Naxos slumming it a bit with a quote from DH on the back? I always think of him as that bloke standing in line behind Woody Allen in the movie Annie Hall (only instead of Fellini it's Simon Rattle getting a drubbing). At the super budget price you could hardly do better, but there are composer-conducted sessions available on EMI and Wergo so presumably they carry even more authority.

Penderecki is one of several composers who did their difficult music bit early and then moved onto more traditional/approachable sounds, presumably to prove they could be as provocative as any in the post-Boulez generation but would prefer to make music for people with ears. Think of Arvo Part, Henryk Gorecki, even Einojuhani Rautavaara. Lutoslawski. I've turned my attention lately to the Polish voices - Lutoslawski, Kilar, Penderecki - and felt most drawn to the latter. Having said that, this is pretty sombre stuff. 'I am a serious person' music.

The Christmas Symphony speaks of wintry blasts and the slaughter of the first born, rather than yuletide cheer. Symphony No.8, built of lieder settings, described by Naxos as about the cycles of death, decay and rebirth, is a dismal teutonic dish which had me longing for the warmer humanity of Szymanowski. The oratorio-like 7th ( 'Seven gates of Jerusalem' ) has a livelier blend of choral and solo singing, oustandingly committed, but I did wonder about the shaping of the music as well as the designation 'symphony'. Shades of Brian's Gothic period and suchlike. Nos. 2 & 3 are substantial symphonic fare, little concerned with sweetmeats or emotional ecstacies.

Amongst the big beasts there are of course Penderecki's smaller and more dangerous early works, like the famous Threnody and the eclectic Fluorescences. Some listeners will prefer these and maybe feel them to be more Penderecki than his later more generalized style - generalized because reminiscent of other more convivial composers. For all the talk of a neo-romantic streak in KP's symphonies from No.2 onward, it was the Symphony No.1, a product of the '70s and a kind of heir to the example set by early symphonies of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Schnittke - all factory noise and mechanical experimentation - which captured my imagination most intensely.

I'm still working on this and I still think it was a good buy, but hardly pleasurable. Yet I recall being outraged as a teen when a bookseller dismissed the copy of The Brothers Karamazov I was tryin to buy as dreary and dour: there will be those who hiss at this review for implicitly designating Penderecki's music an act of forbearance, so let me just say that I am thankful that there is a composer out there trying to work within the symphony genre, with serious-mindedness and respect for the past. Will persevere.
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Location: England

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