Penderecki: Kosmogonia, Canticum Canticorum Salomonis / Wit, Warsaw Philharmonic

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PENDERECKI Hymne an den heiligen Adalbert 1. Song of the Cherubim 2. Canticum Canticorum Salomonis 3. Kosmogonia 4. Strophen 5 • Antoni Wit, cond; 4,5...

PENDERECKI Hymne an den heiligen Adalbert 1. Song of the Cherubim 2. Canticum Canticorum Salomonis 3. Kosmogonia 4. Strophen 5 Antoni Wit, cond; 4,5 Olga Pasichnyk (sop); 4 Rafa? Bartmi?ski (ten); 4 Tomasz Konieczny (bs); 5 Jerzy Artysz (spkr); 1,3-5 Warsaw PO; 1-4 Warsaw P Ch NAXOS 8.572481 (57:18)

Naxos’s Penderecki releases have been of very good quality, but have tended to jumble together music in wildly different styles. The present release is no exception, going backwards chronologically from the Hymne an den heiligen Adalbert (1997) to Strophen (1959), which was composed when Penderecki was in his mid-20s. One would be forgiven for guessing that at least two different composers, perhaps more, were at work here. In the 1970s, thanks in large part to Hollywood, I was turned on to “old” Penderecki, and had a difficult time accepting the changes his style underwent from that point onward. Now that I am gaining maturity (ha!), I’ve become more open-minded, and if “new” Penderecki is not as innovative and striking as “old” Penderecki, the level of workmanship remains very high, and a distinctive voice remains, albeit a different one.

Having said that, I think this disc is most welcome for the presence of the last two, and oldest, works listed in the headnote, because they have been elusive on CD—in fact, I am not sure they have appeared on CD until now. The first (and only?) recording of the creepily beautiful Kosmogonia (1970) appeared on the Polskie Nagranie/Muza and then the Philips labels. The conductor was Andrzej Markowski, and the soloists were Stefania Woytowicz, Kazimierz Pustelak, and Bernard ?adysz. That recording, if you can find it, remains attractive, as it has a warmth and an emotional quality not quite matched by Wit’s, which seems a little clinical. As I recall, like Naxos, it does not print the work’s texts (which are “in copyright”), but I think the texts dealt with the creation of the universe and ended with . . . was it a quotation from Neil Armstrong? Maybe someone will help me out here. I have Strophen on a Polskie Nagranie/Muza LP (with Canticum Canticorum Salomonis ) and I am glad to replace it with this new version, even though I prefer Stefania Woytowicz to Olga Pasichnyk. The texts are taken from Menander, Sophocles, the Books of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and Omar Khayyam, and if their stagey narration makes Strophen seem a little dated, one has to appreciate the work’s daring, if nothing else.

Canticum Canticorum Salomonis (1973) slightly predates Penderecki’s Magnificat , and listeners will appreciate their stylistic proximity, particularly in the aggressive choral writing. Song of the Cherubim (1986) is much more reined in, with little to remind one of the composer’s avant-garde experimentation 15 years earlier. It is, nevertheless, a fine work, whose stern spirituality speaks for itself. Hymne an der heiligen Adalbert references a bishop who was martyred, in the 10th century. The stark but impressive brass and choral writing play off each other to good effect. This is much closer to Górecki than “old” Penderecki; it’s even (gasp) tonal. Still, it’s tough and demanding in its own way, and I don’t think anyone could reasonably suggest that Penderecki lost his nerve as he passed through middle age—he simply became more appreciative of tradition.

The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, whether they are conducted by Wit or someone else, can be depended upon to bring authenticity and fire to Penderecki’s music. Despite my preference for Markowski’s Kosmogonia , I really have no reservations about these performances. In fact, this Canticum Canticorum Salomonis is the most impressive I’ve heard, eclipsing the composer’s own recording on EMI. (Wit’s slower tempos emphasize the music’s sensuality.) Texts, with the exception of Kosmogonia , are available online. I am looking forward to hearing what Wit does with the Magnificat.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle

Product Description:

  • Release Date: September 25, 2012

  • UPC: 747313248179

  • Catalog Number: 8572481

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Krzysztof Penderecki

  • Conductor: Antoni Wit

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Warsaw Philharmonic Chorus, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra

  • Performer: Jerzy Artysz, Olga Pasichnyk, Rafal Bartminsky, Tomasz Konieczny