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ClassicsOnline Home » PENDERECKI, K.: Te Deum / Hymne an den heiligen Daniel / Polymorphia / Ciaconna (Klosinska, Rehlis, Warsaw National Philharmonic, Wit)
Since 1966, with the composition of the St Luke Passion (Naxos 8.557149), Penderecki has enjoyed an international reputation for music that blends direct, emotional appeal with contemporary compositional techniques. The neo-Romantic choral work, Te Deum, was inspired by the anointing of Karol Wojtyla as the first Polish Pope in 1978. Although Penderecki’s recent choral works have tended to be similarly monumental in scale, he has written several of a more compact nature, such as Hymne an den heiligen Daniel, whose opening ranks as one of the composer’s most affecting. This disc closes with two works for strings: the experimental Polymorphia from 1961, and the expressive Chaconne, written in 2005 as a tribute to the late Pope John Paul II.
By Andrew Fraser
Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki leads a double life. On one hand he is a radical modernist composer whose use of new sonorities in works such as Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1961) endeared him to the avant-garde, while on the other his devout Catholic faith inspired his Stabat Mater (1962), a work of such simplicity and direct expression that it dismayed his avant-garde supporters with its apparent conservatism. (Ironically, being a devout Catholic in the atheistic society that was 1960s Poland is probably his most radical act of all.) These recordings, from Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic, contain music from both sides of the composer. The opening Te Deum was written in 1979/80 to celebrate the appointment [strictly, the election – Ed] of the first Polish Pope. Sung in both Latin and Polish, it uses four soloists, choir and orchestra and is a beautiful, simple and affecting work. The Hymne an den heiligen Daniel (for choir and orchestra) is a more compact, but still effective composition from 1997 and the Chaconne, a work for strings only, was composed in 2005 following the death of Pope John Paul II. Contrasting dramatically with these simple expressive works are the extraordinary sonorities of 1961’s Polymorphia, also for strings only, but this time seemingly using every imaginable sound possible from these instruments.
By David Denton
Krzysztof Penderecki (b. 1933)
Te Deum • Hymne an den heiligen Daniel • Polymorphia • Chaconne
Surprising though it might now seem, the appearance in 1962 of the Stabat Mater by Krzysztof Penderecki caused something of a furore in European avant-garde music circles. Coming in the wake of such radical orchestral works as Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1961) and Fluorescences (1962) [Naxos 8.554491], its stark simplicity and emotional directness led - not for the last time in his career - to accusations of his having turned his back on musical progress. Worth remembering, though, is Penderecki's double stance - as a progressive composer in the outwardly conformist environment of post-Stalinist Poland, and also as a devout Catholic in a nominally atheist society. The Stabat Mater was among the first open expressions of faith in Poland since the Second World War, and Penderecki did not hesitate to incorporate it into a more comprehensive expression of faith when the opportunity came about in 1964: the Passio et mors Domini nostri Iesu Christi secundum Lucam, or St Luke Passion [8.557149], being the outcome. Its sheer diversity of technique, moreover, was to prove a paradigm for the large-scale choral works that he has since composed.
Among these later works the Te Deum occupies a prominent position. Its inspiration was the seminal event on 16 October 1978: that of the anointing of Karol Wojtyla as the first Polish Pope. Begun the following autumn, the work was completed in September 1980, then given its première in the Cathedral of St Francis of Assisi in Kraków under the composer's direction. Anyone, however, expecting a celebratory or outgoing work, in the manner of settings by Dvořák or Bruckner, would have been taken aback by the sombreness of Penderecki's response, for all that aspects of the text do evince such a perspective. Whereas his previous large-scale choral work, the Magnificat (1974), had seen a transition away from the avant-garde techniques central to the composer's music over the previous fifteen years, the Te Deum is demonstrably in the monumental, neo-Romantic idiom of the First Violin Concerto (1977) [8.555265] and also the sacred opera Paradise Lost (1978), before culminating in the Second Symphony (1980) [8.554492]; after which, Penderecki's music becomes more diverse and pluralistic in manner.
Although it plays continuously, and develops from a nucleus of motifs heard at the opening, the Te Deum falls into three sections: beginning at 'Te Deum laudamus', continuing at 'Te Martyrum candidatus laudat exercitus', and then concluding at 'Salvum fac populum tuum Domine'.
The first section begins with ominous timpani rolls that presage the entry of lower strings and brass, together evoking an atmosphere of sepulchral gloom. The chorus enters in equally mournful fashion, the music building to a climax whose decisiveness is short-lived. At this point, the soloists enter in expressive polyphony, their ruminations alternating with those of the chorus. The mood remains anxious, even prayerful, and a powerful climax, untuned percussion much to the fore, is reached. The female soloists respond in anguished phrases, and tension gradually subsides against the sound of bells. A hushed choral passage brings this section to a close.
The second section then erupts with malevolent music across the orchestra, intensified by the chorus as it reaches a climax of grinding dissonance. The baritone responds with forceful protestations, though gradually leading the music into calmer waters. A further brief upsurge, and the mezzo-soprano ushers in soprano and chorus to bring this section to its close over frozen string chords.
The third section starts with prayerful entreaties from the chorus, soon alternating with sighing phrases from soprano. A further climax is once again dominated by percussive volleys, then the tenor joins with the chorus to secure a greater calm. After a solemn orchestral interlude, the music unfolds with greater underlying purposefulness. The soloists engage in plangent dialogue, then a final choral climax sees the work through to an ending that, in its tense expectancy, is hardly cathartic.
While Penderecki's more recent choral works have generally tended towards an expansive scale, he has also written several of a more compact duration. Two such complementary pieces emerged during 1997: Hymne an den heiligen Adalbert and Hymne an den heiligen Daniel, the latter of which is recorded here. Its opening ranks as one of Penderecki's most affecting, with unaccompanied chorus unfolding a span of soulful polyphony, during which the bass voices provide a sonorous underpinning to the texture. As the singing takes on greater expressive animation, the orchestra enters and provokes an affirmative climax. A hushed continuation, and the music then reaches a hymn-like culmination, now replete with the sonority of trumpets and bells. This carries through the work's final pages to a close of powerful grandeur.
The other two works define the essence of Penderecki's idiom from a remove of over three decades. Composed in 1961, Polymorphia is one of several innovative pieces written for strings during this period, and finds the progressive tendencies of the composer's earlier years at their most overt. Over a densely-layered chord in cellos and basses, the upper strings indulge in a range of glissando techniques as the music's texture and dynamic level intensify. There follows a passage that combines pizzicato with col legno techniques, spreading out over the entire string body and culminating in an aggressive wash of sound. Abruptly curtailed, it leaves behind a single sustained chord, building to a propulsive climax whose final chord is a true coup de théâtre.
Although he has not written a large-scale orchestral work since his Second Violin Concerto of 1995 [8.555265] (a 'Sixth Symphony' having been 'in progress' during that time), Penderecki has penned several more compact pieces. The Chaconne for strings, however, that ends this disc has a different provenance. Subtitled 'in memoria Giovanni Paolo II ', it was written in 2005 (and first performed in Wroclaw on 17 September that year) as a tribute to the late Pope John Paul II, and forms a late addition to the Polish Requiem [8.557386-87] the composer put together in the early 1980s. The present piece typifies the direct expressive manner in much of Penderecki's recent music, with the baroque-like plaintiveness of its main theme made the basis for a sequence of closely-derived variations. While the music takes on a greater animation as it unfolds, its underlying sense of elegy is reaffirmed by the climactic variation, before retreating to a conclusion of gentle if expectant chordal figuration.
Sung texts are available at www.naxos.com/libretti/557980.htm
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