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ClassicsOnline Home » PENDERECKI, K.: Symphony No. 8 (first version 2005) / Dies irae / Aus den Psalmen Davids (Warsaw Philharmonic, Wit)
Penderecki's Eighth Symphony, which here receives its world première recording, is a setting of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century German poems entitled Lieder der Vergänglichkeit (Songs of Transience). Mankind's journey though life, as reflected in the decay and rebirth of the natural world, underlies its twelve movements. Scored for not dissimilar forces, the oratorio Dies irae is a very different proposition, commissioned to mark the unveiling of the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Composed in 1958 and given its première at Kraków in September the following year, Aus den Psalmen Davids was one of the works that marked Penderecki's arrival on the new music scene.
By Robert R. Reilly
This symphony is a setting of 19th and early 20th century German poems by Goethe, Rilke, and others, titled Songs of Transience. The settings are beautifully done, some of them quite haunting, which is not a surprise considering the subject matter. What is surprising is that most of this work would not have been out of place in the late 19thor early 20th century. Compare it to the hair-raising Dies irae from 1958, also on this disc, from Penderecki's avant-garde phase, and you will see how long a journey this composer has traveled.
By David Denton
Symphony No. 8 • Dies irae • Aus den Psalmen Davids
Symphonies have long been central to the compositions of Krzysztof Penderecki. Completed in 1973, his First Symphony [Naxos 8.554567] marks the culmination of his 'avant-garde' phase as well as taking the colouristic idiom of the pieces from the preceding decade to its limits. By the time his Second Symphony [Naxos 8.554492] appeared in 1980, Penderecki was in the midst of a 'neo-Romantic' phase, with its allusions to late-nineteenth-century music. The next three symphonies each mine aspects of the stylistic pluralism he has since pursued. The Third Symphony [Naxos 8.554491] was not completed until 1995, six years after the 'Adagio' that is the Fourth Symphony [Naxos 8.554492], with the Fifth Symphony [Naxos 8.554567] following in 1996.
The Sixth Symphony is still in progress, but Penderecki meanwhile turned attention to the choral symphony. His Seventh Symphony, 'The Seven Gates of Jerusalem' [Naxos 8.557766] had its première early in 1997 and sets texts from the Psalms of David and Book of Ezekiel. The Eighth Symphony, completed in 2005 and given its première that year in Luxembourg under Bramwell Tovey, is a setting of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century German poems entitled Lieder der Vergänglichkeit (Songs of Transience) for soprano, mezzo and baritone soloists, mixed choir and an orchestra including a prominent part for bass trumpet. Mankind's journey through life, as reflected in the decay and rebirth of the natural world, underlies the twelve movements.
The first movement is a setting of Joseph von Eichendorff's 'Nachts'(By Night), a poem that evokes an Eden-like innocence. Beginning hesitantly in lower strings and woodwind, it opens out into an elegiac setting for mezzo and chorus, replete with the toiling of bells. The second movement sets the first verse of Rainer Maria Rilke's 'Ende des Herbstes'(End of Autumn), its warning of the inevitability of change given forceful treatment by chorus and orchestra, lower brass to the fore. The third movement returns to Eichendorff and his 'Bei einer Linde'(By a Lime Tree), a reflection on the passing of spring in parallel to the onset of human experience. The text is taken by a baritone, his imploring manner mirrored by the orchestra, with sighing phrases on strings and plaintive oboe solo at the close.
The fourth movement again features a baritone in a setting of Karl Kraus's 'Flieder' (Lilac) which, in telling of the renewal of natural as well as human life, is notable for its skirling woodwind and incisive strings in music that is more animated in expression. The baritone remains for the fifth movement, a setting of Hermann Hesse's 'Frühlingsnacht'(Spring Night) and the nocturnal corollary to the preceding poem, which opens with an atmospheric prelude for cor anglais along with harmonics in the upper strings. Briefly disrupted by fugitive activity in brass and woodwind, the atmosphere is as suspenseful as is the text. There follows the second stanza of Rilke's 'Ende des Herbstes'as the choral sixth movement, in which the imminence of decay (whether natural or human) is depicted in music that has been reduced to stark string phrases by the close.
A soprano now takes on the seventh movement, a setting of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's 'Sag' ich's euch, geliebte Bäume?'(Do I tell you, beloved trees), which views human aspiration in a metaphysical manner, the fervent vocal writing accentuated by interjections from percussion. The mood changes rapidly when the chorus enters, building to the biggest climax so far, with trumpets and bells to the fore. The chorus opens the eighth movement, a setting of Hesse's 'Im Nebel'(In the Mist) that draws parallels in the separation of trees from each other with the isolation of humans as they go through life. Its rapt tone is complemented by the hushed orchestral backdrop, but takes on a new immediacy as the soprano enters, the chorus returning in a mood of expectancy. The ninth movement stays with Hesse for a setting of 'Vergänglichkeit' (Transitoriness), whose description of weariness through living is mirrored by the anxious soprano and chorus, with brass and percussion reinforcing a mood of imminent tragedy.
The tenth movement is the last verse of Rilke's 'Ende des Herbstes', its sombre intimations of mortality given to chorus and building to a climax with a doleful bass trumpet solo as postlude. The baritone enters for the eleventh movement, a setting of Rilke's 'Herbsttag'(Autumn Day) whose description of imminent decay brought about by that season is emphasized by restricting orchestral activity to lower woodwind and strings. The twelfth movement is the most extended: a setting of Achim von Arnim's 'O grüner Baum des Lebens'(O green tree of life) which appeals to the 'green tree' in every human heart as showing the way to eternal life in the face of imminent death. It also brings together all the performers for the first time in the work. The music builds to an intensive fugal passage in the strings, cut off by the glowering bass trumpet solo. Chorus and then soloists bring about the work's main climax, before continuing in starkly contrasted passages as the orchestra subsides into spectral percussion and the chorus vanishes upward into nothingness.
Scored for not dissimilar forces, the oratorio Dies irae is a very different proposition. Penderecki completed it at the beginning of 1967, on a commission to mark the unveiling of the International Monument to the Victims of Fascism at the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Oswieçim, where the première took place in April 1967 under Krzysztof Missona. The work is in three clearly defined parts that outline a cumulative overall trajectory.
The first part, Lamentatio, sets texts by the Polish poets Władysław Broniewski ('Bodies') and Tadeusz Rozewitzc ('A Pigtail'), separated by an extract from Louis Aragon's poem Auschwitz. The grave opening on male voices and lower strings presages a mournful soprano solo and violent cluster-chords for the whole chorus. Fateful percussion underpins grinding discords in the lower strings, before mezzo and chorus sound out their plangent response, the former continuing over angular interjections from brass. The chorus remains to impart a sense of prayerful dread to this section's closing stage.
The second part, Apocalypsis, sets extracts from Psalm 116 and the Book of Revelation (chapters 2, 6, 7, 11-13 and 19), as well as The Eumenides of Aeschylus. The contribution of the chorus is given graphic emphasis through its whispered and shouted phrases, intensified by brutal interjections from brass and percussion. The bass soloist then enters for a grave soliloquy, punctuated by brass and drums. Lower brass and strings now provoke the work's glowering climax, capped by frenzied choral gestures and the shrill sound of a siren.
The brief third part, Apotheosis, sets verses from Revelation and Paul's Epistle to the Corinthians, as well as the closing line from Paul Valéry's 'Le Cimetière marin' (The Churchyard by the Sea). The initial protestations from tenor, then soprano, are followed by the chorus as the music wells up in indignation before dying away on lower strings - the chorus left to utter the fateful last words 'Let us try to live'.
Composed in 1958 and given its première at Kraków in September the next year, Aus den Psalmen Davids was one of the works that marked Penderecki's arrival on the new music scene. The title, From the Psalms of David, is significant as the composer uses only extracts from his texts and seeks not so much to capture their essence as to evoke something of their nature in constructing a succinct choral suite.
Percussion ushers in the first setting, from Psalm 28, its urgently reiterated phrases and whispered fragments contrasted with plaintive sung passages, percussion providing a skeletal underpinning at the close. The second setting, from Psalm 30, is sung unaccompanied in mournful polyphony, the gently dissonant harmony given direction by the smooth-unfolding vocal lines. The third setting, from Psalm 43, opens with aggressive rhythms on percussion and piano, powering a largely syllabic choral contribution that proceeds with irresistible drive. Tuned percussion opens the fourth setting, from Psalm 143, in the greatest contrast before leading to the restrained entry of the chorus. Gradually the harmony fills out and the expression duly intensifies, as the music builds in a steady crescendo of defiance that ends the work in a gesture parallel to that with which it began.
Die gesungenen Texte sind online unter www.naxos.com/libretti/570450.htm
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PENDERECKI, K.: Symphony No. 8 (first version 2005...