PENDERECKI: Three Pieces in Olden Style (1963). Serenade (1997). Sinfonietta
No. 1 (1992). Sinfonietta No. 2 (1994)*. Intermezzo for 24 Strings (1973).
Capriccio for Oboe and String Orchestra (1964).
Artur Pachlewski (clarinet); Jean-Louis Capezzali (oboe); Warsaw Philharmonic
Chamber Orchestra/Antoni Wit.
Naxos 8.572212 TT: 58:10.
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Hits and misses and points in between. Krzysztof Penderecki's composing
career divides into roughly three periods. He first made a splash in the
late Fifties through the early Seventies as an avant-garde wonderboy with
advanced works that nevertheless found a general audience. In the Seventies,
he began to make a rapprochement to traditional procedures,
and the new-music crowd yelled "traitor," mistaking means of
music-making for quality. Penderecki then went on to his final period,
in which he made free use
of any means, any style, often within the same piece. This program presents
work from all three periods.
The Capriccio belongs in the composer's avant-garde, Threnody for the
Victims of Hiroshima style. Richard Whitehouse considers it Penderecki
in a whimsical mood. I find it merely ugly. The oboist jumps through
various "extended" playing
techniques to little expressive end.
The Three Pieces in Olden Style, from the same period, nevertheless falls
outside Penderecki's avant-gardisme. It's a bit of baroque pastiche --
an air and two minuets. This also caused a few eyebrows to rise, but the
music belonged to a film score and within that context had expressive point.
Besides, it seemed a one-off. I find the music pleasant but not all that
The Intermezzo, one of the final works of Penderecki's experimental period,
like Strauss's Metamorphosen, exploits the ensemble as a collection of
individual strings, presenting not only mass sonorities of dense counterpoint,
but kaleidoscopically-changing textures. It begins quietly, builds to a
roar (which goes on way too long), and quiets down again. I should point
out that the comparison to Strauss refers only to general viewpoint toward
ensemble writing. As far as expressivity and sophistication go, it falls
The two Sinfoniettas rework two other pieces: the first, the String Trio;
the second, the Clarinet Quintet. At this point, the interest of the
program skyrockets. The first movement of the Sinfonietta No. 1 juxtaposes
from mass strings against quiet solos and a little triplet motif of rising
or falling thirds tossed from one group of strings to another. Roughly
midway, we come to a passage for string trio, mostly inward recitative.
This leads to a fugato treatment of the triplet idea. One last angry
set of stomps gives way to the recitative, which leads directly to the
and last movement. A fugue begins, leading to a long central episode
featuring, in Whitehouse's phrase, "spectral pizzicatos" along
the way. A contrapuntal gigue, based on the fugal subject, breaks out,
and it becomes
clear as well that the two leading motifs of the previous movement (the
stomp and the triplet, sometimes regularized into duple time) play an
important role in this movement as well. The music, full of vim, pulls
along. One of Penderecki's best scores
In four movements, the Sinfonietta No. 2, for clarinet and strings, a
work which deals in very spare textures. It begins with a nocturne and
solo for the clarinet. This turns into a duet with the violas. The music
evokes the eerie quiet of night. A "vivacissimo" scherzo follows
with unison strings. The clarinet joins in and we have the makings of a
concertino. The scherzo hesitates, then winds up for another go. This leads
directly to the next movement, a serenade marked "tempo di valse." It's
a pretty tenuous waltz, more a minuet, if you ask me. Don't expect Strauss
or Tchaikovsky. I can barely hear the 3/4 Schwung.
We end on the most substantial movement marked "Abschied: Larghetto" (farewell),
filled with Mahlerian gestures and structured mainly as duets and tradeoffs
between the solo clarinet and the solo first violin. If you'd ever call
Penderecki a great composer, it's here -- a "long goodbye," if
ever there was one.
Penderecki composed the two movements of the Serenade for two different
occasions, but they fit together very well. The composer calls the first
movement a passacaglia -- why, I have no idea -- since it's not structured
as variations over a ground. Indeed, it's really a meditation based on
imitation among the instruments of two basic ideas. The slow second movement,
more than twice as long as the first, yearns Romantically for transcendental
parts unknown and comes pretty close. At least I can mention this movement
in the same breath as Strauss's Metamorphosen without cringing.
Penderecki should thank whatever gods there be that Antoni Wit has decided
to champion his work. I've always considered Wit one of the finest of contemporary
conductors, who should have had a much bigger career than many other better-known
names. Under his direction, the Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra performs
impeccably and with passion. The recording levels seem way too high to
me, but you can always turn your volume down.
S.G.S. (July 2012)