• Górecki: Total Immersion (3 October 2015)

HMG Barbican cover 3.10.15Before you ask, no, I don’t know why there’s an arty picture of flowers next to a flipped photo of the composer.  And while I’m in a grump, I do not understand why, after I carefully vet a proof, a copy editor can introduce new errors or miss ones that I have pointed out.  Here they ranged from inserting a cack-handed and unnecessary ‘explanation’ (underlined here) into a perfectly clear statement and then not editing it properly afterwards – ‘… Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 27 No. 1, which was described by its composer as a ‘sonata quasi una fantasia’ (ie a sonata in the style of a fantasia). ‘Quasi una fantasia’.’ – to giving one work the movement headings of another and failing to spot the auto-correct in ‘Lunam et Stellas in potestatem noxious’.  But these blemishes in the printed programme cannot detract from what was a terrific BBC SO ‘Total Immersion’ focus on Henryk Mikołaj Górecki last Saturday at London’s Barbican.

I am not accustomed to writing reviews, and this isn’t intended to be one, but I can’t pass the occasion by without thanking the BBC SO for providing this panorama from his earliest acknowledged work (Four Preludes for piano op. 1, 1955) to one of his posthumous pieces (Kyrie op. 83, 2005).  With only three concerts over a single afternoon and evening, it is impossible to represent all facets of a composer.  In this instance, however, there was a glaring gap between 1956 (Piano Sonata) and 1969 (Old Polish Music) – his most experimental years.  This was odd, given the day’s title – ‘Henryk Górecki: Polish Pioneer’.  When I saw the preliminary programme, I did suggest that the Silesian String Quartet might add Genesis I: Elementi (1962) to its recital of the first two string quartets, but nothing came of it. Could the BBC SO not have replaced the rather formulaic Old Polish Music with Scontri (1960) or Refrain (1965)? This cavil apart, the repertoire choices were excellent and gave the large and highly appreciative audiences much to relish.

I started off proceedings with an hour-long talk at 11.00, in which I deliberately complemented the day’s repertoire with discussion of other pieces.  I was told that the 80 people who turned up were double the number expected, and they seemed to enjoy the mix of musical and anecdotal observations.  The Silesian Quartet at 13.00 was in top form, bringing a grittiness and passion to the music that Górecki would have thoroughly appreciated.

Violetta Rotter-Kozera’s biographical film Please Find Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (2012) was screened at 15.00.  Its generally chronological progress was illuminated by archive clips and multiple interviews made in 2011 in the USA and Europe, although the English-language subtitling for the Polish interviewees occasionally left something to be desired. Consistently translating ‘utwór’ (work/piece) as ‘song’ was an irritating sign of the times, but the film is an honest portrayal and a welcome antidote to the Tony Palmer film of 1993.

The 17.30 concert was shared by the BBC Singers under David Hill and the pianist Emiko Edwards.  Edwards played the two student works with fire and understanding, both crisp and robust.  The BBC Singers were also in top form. Their Polish pronunciation was exemplary, as was their tonal and dynamic balance.  It was good to hear the complete Marian Songs (1985), although they are not the most interesting or varied of Gorecki’s a cappella pieces, but no. 21 of the recently published Church Songs (1986) was a good work with which to end the recital.

Those members of the audience who reached their seats early for the BBC SO’s own concert at 19.30 were treated to a reworking of Totus Tuus under the composer Tim Steiner.  The concert itself was the climax of the day, not least because its repertoire was almost entirely new to the audience, which reacted with enthusiasm.  As I intimated earlier, Old Polish Music is one of Gorecki’s most austere pieces, but the new Kyrie (first performed in 2014 and here being given its UK premiere), was a softer, more intimate work and makes one wonder what the rest of the mass commissioned by Pope John Paul II might have been like if Górecki had got round to completing it.  Mahan Esfahani was the cool and elegant soloist in the Harpsichord Concerto (1980), although I wished that the conductor, Antoni Wit, had not allowed even the reduced complement of strings to obscure the cross-metric subtleties of the solo part.  The final work, and the one that startled the most, was the Second Symphony ‘Copernican’ (1972).  My distant recollection of this rarely performed work (I’ve heard it live only twice before, at the Holland Festival in 1993 and later that same year in Katowice at a celebratory concert for Górecki’s 60th birthday) was revived by Wit, his two soloists (Marie Arnet and Marcus Farnsworth) and the BBC Chorus.  The symphony’s impact was palpable. As both it and the whole day demonstrated, Górecki was far more than just his Third Symphony, and those present recognised this.  Thank you, BBC SO!

You can catch the three concerts on the BBC as follows:

String Quartet no.2http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06fldxd  (available on BBC iPlayer until the beginning of November)
BBC SO concert plus String Quartet no.1 in the interval: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06flpnl  (available on BBC iPlayer until the beginning of November, presented by Petroc Trelawny, with Mahan Esfahani and myself)
BBC Singers and Emiko Edwards: this will be broadcast on Radio 3 during the last week of October and will then be available on iPlayer for 30 days

And here are a few links to the immediate reviews – both good and middling:

• George Hall: 3* http://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/oct/04/total-immersion-henryk-gorecki-review-bbcso
• John Allison: 4* http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/classical-music/gorecki-total-immersion-barbican-review/
• Gavin Dixonhttp://www.theartsdesk.com/classical-music/total-immersion-henryk-g%C3%B3recki-barbican
• John-Pierre Joyce: 5* http://www.musicomh.com/classical/reviews-classical/bbc-so-wit-barbican-hall-london
• Richard Whitehousehttp://www.classicalsource.com/db_control/db_concert_review.php?id=13157

and added to on 11 November:

• Fiona Maddockshttp://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/oct/11/daniil-trifonov-royal-festival-hall-review-angela-hewitt-gorecki-total-immersion
Paul Driverhttp://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/culture/music/article1616360.ece (first two paragraphs, the remainder subject to subscription)

My programme essay and notes may be found by clicking on this link.

• Panufnik, Penderecki, Zubel

To add to forthcoming Polish music events in the UK, there are two celebrations this month, in Glasgow and Manchester.  Next Saturday and Sunday (20-21 June), ‘Panufnik. A Celebration’ takes place at City Halls, Glasgow, with three concerts devoted almost entirely to his music.  A few days later (23-26 June), the RNCM in Manchester hosts ‘Seven Gates: The Music of Poland Explored’. Penderecki will conduct the first UK performance (!) of his Seven Gates of Jerusalem, only 18 years after it was premiered; his music and that of the much younger Agata Zubel (b.1978) take the foreground.  Lutosławski features at both events in a supporting role, with Górecki and Szymanowski also included in Manchester.  The Manchester repertoire has some little-known Penderecki works embedded in it, and of the three films Andrzej Wajda’s feature on Katyń and Wiktor Skrzynecki’s documentary about the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ will be well worth seeing.  For repertoire details, see below.

While I am delighted that these composers are being played and heard, I can’t help feeling that the repertoires of both events reinforce the impression in the UK that Polish music still consists of composers (Zubel excepted) who are either dead or reaching their creative dotage.  The one exception in this country, largely confined to sacred music, is Paweł Łukaszewski (b.1968), who has made a strong impact in choral circles here and was featured last year at the Presteigne Festival, which also promoted another Polish composer in his 40s but little-known in the UK, Maciej Zieliński (b.1971).  Zubel’s music is especially welcome this year in this context, and anyone wanting to hear her recent music, but who can’t get to Manchester, is recommended to seek out her CD ‘Not I’ on the Kairos label.

In case you missed it, Hyperion released a CD earlier this year of string quartets by Paweł Szymański (b.1954) and Paweł Mykietyn (b.1971), both of whom are well-established and no longer up-and-coming in Poland yet are virtually unknown here, despite Szymański having had some exposure with the London Sinfonietta some 25 years ago.  I am still waiting for high-profile performances of composers now in their 30s, like Szymański was when the BBC commissioned Partita IV for premiere at the Sonorities Festival in Belfast in 1987.  What about – and this is to name just a few composers in addition to Zubel, some deeply involved in multi-media work, who are headline figures in Poland and have international profiles elsewhere – Wojtek Blecharz (b.1981), Andrzej Kwieciński (b.1984), Dariusz Przybylski (b.1984), Marcin Stańczyk (b.1977) or Jagoda Szmytka (b.1982)?  There are dozens more (by focusing on those born in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I am not forgetting that there are older – even younger – composers equally worthy of investigation!).

…….

Panufnik.  A Celebration
City Halls, Glasgow, 20-21 June 2015

BBC Scottish SO, conducted by Łukasz Borowicz, Alexander Sitkovetsky, Ewa Kupiec

Panufnik: Divertimento, after Janiewicz (1947), Lullaby (1947), Sinfonia rustica (1948), Polonia (1959), Piano Concerto (1961/several times revised), Sinfonia sacra (1963), Violin Concerto (1971), Symphony 10 (1988), unidentified piano music
Lutosławski: unidentified piano music

…….

Seven Gates: The Music of Poland Explored
RNCM, Manchester, 23-26 June 2015

RNCM New Ensemble, Dominic Degavino, RNCM SO, Chamber Choir and Chorus, Piero Lombardi Eglesias, Maciej Tworek, Krzysztof Penderecki (other soloists and ensembles tba)

Penderecki: Violin Sonata no.1 (1953), Three Miniatures for clarinet and piano (1956), Brigade of Death (tape, 1963), Agnus Dei (1981, arranged for eight cellos), Cadenza for solo viola (1984), Entrata (1994), Symphony no.7 ‘Seven Gates of Jerusalem’ (1996), String Quartet no.3 (2008),
Górecki: Harpsichord Concerto (1980)
Lutosławski: Dance Preludes (1954), Chain 1 (1983), Piano Concerto (1988)
Szymanowski: Songs of a Fairytale Princess (1915), Masques (1916)
Zubel: Suite for percussion trio (2011), Streets of a Human City (2011), Shades of Ice (2011)

Films:
• Katyń (Andrzej Wajda, 2007)
• Górecki: The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (Tony Palmer, 1993, not 2008 as given in the brochure)
• 50 years of [the] Warsaw Autumn (Wiktor Skrzynecki, 2007)

• Nugs and Bling: Three Silesian Graves

For the first time since Górecki’s funeral four years ago, last week I paid a visit to the cemetery near Katowice’s Cathedral of Christ the King.  I had seen (and posted) a photo of the grave, but its gravestone – or, rather its rough nug of a monument (‘nug’ is the possible etymological root of ‘nugget’, and deserves to be reinstated for its sound alone!) – makes it stand proud of the conventional gravestones around it.  From every angle it looks quietly and solidly imposing.  Although I was there three weeks after All Saints’ and All Souls’, the cemetery was still a blaze of colour.

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A little further down the main avenue is the grave of Górecki’s fellow Silesian and composer, Wojciech Kilar (who died on 29 December last year) and his wife Barbara.  Its shiny black arch and gold lettering are striking, to say the least, as is the mottled marble cross that lies on the grave and points through the opening.  Maybe arch is the wrong image: it seems to be more like the dark night pierced by light.  It certainly stands taller than any other memorial.

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On into an adjoining cemetery.  To the right, in the second row, is the grave of the Polish actor, Zbigniew Cybulski.  He died in 1967, running for a departing train in Wrocław.  He slipped on its steps and fell under the wheels.  He was only 39, but he had made a huge impact on Polish cinema, most famously for his role in Andrzej Wajda’s film Ashes and Diamonds (1958).  His memorial has a ruggedness that parallels Górecki’s.  Its stone still had not been cleared of the dozens of candles placed there at the start of the month.

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• New Book: Polish Music since 1945

A new collection of essays on post-war Polish music has just been published by Musica Iagellonica in Kraków.  It is edited by Eva Mantzourani, who convened a conference four years ago, at the Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent, UK, under the title ‘Polish Music since 1945’.  Scholars young and old came from far and wide, and this volume of 31 essays is the result of those very stimulating days in May 2009.  It may be purchased at the Musica Iagellonica online shop for 85zł (c. £17/$27, plus postage).  The list of contents is given below.

Polish Music since 1945
PART I: Polish Composers in Context

• Charles Bodman Rae: ‘The Polish musical psyche: From the Second Republic into the Third’
• Adrian Thomas: ‘Locating Polish music’
• Marek Podhajski: ‘Polish music, Polish composers 1918–2007’
• Ruth Seehaber: ‘The construction of a “Polish School”: Self-perception and foreign perception of Polish contemporary music between 1956 and 1976’
• Bogumiła Mika: ‘Between “a game with a listener” and a symbolic referral to tradition: Musical quotation in Polish art music since 1945’
• David Tompkins: ‘The Stalinist state as patron: Composers and commissioning in early Cold War Poland’
• Maja Trochimczyk: ‘1968 – Operation Danube, ISCM, and Polish music’
• Alicja Jarzębska: ‘Polish music and the problem of the cultural Cold War’
• Niall O’Loughlin: ‘Panufnik and Polishness’
• Violetta Kostka: ‘Tadeusz Kassern: Music from his American period’
• Barbara Literska: ‘The “commissioned” works of Tadeusz Baird’
• Katarzyna Naliwajek-Mazurek: ‘Paweł Szymański and the multiple narrative in music’
• Marta Szoka: ‘The music of Paweł Mykietyn: In between pastiche, deconstruction and the great narration’
• Caroline Rae: ‘Dutilleux and Lutosławski: Franco-Polish connections’

PART II: Analytical perspectives

• Beata Bolesławska-Lewandowska: ‘Lutosławski’s Second Symphony (1967) and Górecki’s Second Symphony (1972): Two concepts of the bipartite late avant-garde symphony’
• Teresa Malecka: ‘Górecki’s creative journeys between nature and culture: Around the Copernican Symphony
• Stanisław Będkowski: ‘Wojciech Kilar’s last symphonies: Modification of a paradigm’
• Zbigniew Skowron: ‘Lutosławski at the crossroads. Three Postludes: A reappraisal of their style and compositional technique’
• Suyun Tang: ‘Lutosławski’s tonal architecture as defined by a Schenkerian tonal model’
• Aleksandra Bartos: ‘Witold Lutosławski’s Portrait of Woman 2000: New aspects of his compositional technique’
• Amanda Bayley and Neil Heyde: ‘Interpreting indeterminacy: Filming Lutosławski’s String Quartet’
• Cindy Bylander: ‘Back to the future: The interaction of form and motive in Penderecki’s middle symphonies’
• Regina Chłopicka: ‘The St Luke Passion and the Eighth Symphony Lieder der Vergänglichkeit: The key works in Penderecki’s oeuvre’
• Tim Rutherford-Johnson: ‘Theological aspects to Penderecki’s St Luke Passion
• Agnieszka Draus: ‘Infernal and celestial circles in Paradise Lost: Milton and Penderecki’
• Tomasz Kienik: ‘The musical language of Kazimierz Serocki: Analytical aspects of his musical output’
• Iwona Lindstedt: ‘Sonoristics and serial thinking: On the distinctive features of works from the “Polish School”’.
• Anna Masłowiec: ‘The sonoristic score: Inside and outside’

PART III: Polish jazz, film music and the marketplace

• Zbigniew Granat: ‘Underground roads to new music: Walls, tunnels, and the emergence of jazz avant-garde in 1960s Poland’
• Nicholas Reyland: ‘Experiencing agapē: Preisner and Kieślowski’s Three Colours: Blue
• Renata Pasternak-Mazur: ‘Sacropolo or Sacrum in the marketplace’

• WL100/33: Zanussi documentary (complete)

Krzysztof Zanussi’s 1991 documentary on Lutosławski has just appeared on YouTube, complete.  I wrote almost three months ago about two excerpts that became available there in mid-January (WL100/13) and I’ve reproduced that post’s opening paragraphs below.

“On 19 January 1991, BBC 2 showed a one-hour documentary on Lutosławski.  It was made by the distinguished Polish film director Krzysztof Zanussi.  Witold Lutosławski in Conversation with Krzysztof Zanussi (1990) utilises excerpts from a BBC Omnibus documentary Warsaw Autumn (1978)filmed by Dennis Marks in 1977, as starting points.  Zanussi steers Lutosławski through key moments of his life, interspersed with the composer conducting rehearsals or special recordings of excerpts of his music.

The results are mixed.  At times, the premise is realised archly, as at the beginning, when the interview set-up seems rather self-conscious.  At other times, Zanussi’s probing produces some interesting responses.  Lutosławski recollection of his father is rather touching, for example, and his recollection of life in the 1980s (during Solidarity and then under Martial Law) fascinating.  As always, he can be alternately open and guarded.

The interiors were filmed either in his downstairs sitting area (it’s open-plan) or in his first floor, L-shaped study (see my earlier post Lutosławski’s Carpet).  The major musical extracts are from Musique funèbrePreludes and FugueChain 2 (with Krzysztof Jakowicz) and the Third Symphony.”

 

• WL100/13: In Conversation with Zanussi

On 19 January 1991, BBC 2 showed a one-hour documentary on Lutosławski.  It was made by the distinguished Polish film director Krzysztof Zanussi.  Witold Lutosławski in Conversation with Krzysztof Zanussi (1990) utilises excerpts from a BBC Omnibus documentary Warsaw Autumn (1978)filmed by Dennis Marks in 1977, as starting points.  Zanussi steers Lutosławski through key moments of his life, interspersed with the composer conducting rehearsals or special recordings of excerpts of his music.

The results are mixed.  At times, the premise is realised archly, as at the beginning, when the interview set-up seems rather self-conscious.  At other times, Zanussi’s probing produces some interesting responses.  Lutosławski recollection of his father is rather touching, for example, and his recollection of life in the 1980s (during Solidarity and then under Martial Law) fascinating.  As always, he can be alternately open and guarded.

The interiors were filmed either in his downstairs sitting area (it’s open-plan) or in his first floor, L-shaped study (see my earlier post Lutosławski’s Carpet).  The major musical extracts are from Musique FunèbrePreludes and FugueChain 2 (with Krzysztof Jakowicz) and the Third Symphony.  Two excerpts from Witold Lutosławski in Conversation with Krzysztof Zanussi (amounting to the second and fourth quarters of the documentary) were uploaded to YouTube yesterday, so here are the links with a little commentary to each.

Excerpt 1

This section is concerned firstly with the post-war decade and socialist realism.  Habitually, Lutosławski was extremely guarded about this period, as he is here, especially in the excerpt from the Omnibus film.  The three-day conference to which Lutosławski refers took place in western Poland, at a place called Łagów, in August 1949.  (Less than half of the members of the Polish Composers’ Union attended, rather than the ‘all’ that Lutosławski mentions.)  Secondly (c. 7’45” in), the film shows Lutosławski accompanying a group of young children singing one of his children’s songs, Rzeczka (River, 1947).  The final section (c. 11’20” in) moves the questioning of the relationship between the music and social-political contexts to the 1980s.  It shows a fragment of Lutosławski’s speech on the first day of the Congress of Polish Culture in Warsaw on 12 December 1981.  Overnight, Poland found itself under Martial Law.

 

Excerpt 2

This section concludes the documentary with a brief discussion of the return to democracy in the late 1980s and then focuses on the Third Symphony.  There are two musical passages here, from figs 84 to 89 and from fig. 93 (Coda), in what appears to be a specially recorded session with Lutosławski conducting the Great Polish Radio SO (WOSPR) in Katowice.

 

• Grave matters

I’m catching up on Polish arrears, having dallied since my visit to Warsaw last month by staying in London to see Covent Garden’s Ring cycle (frankly, I might just as well have listened to it on the radio, so inept and wilfully contrary was the set design and production; the final half hour in particular was a total travesty).  And then I succumbed to a week of ‘underweatherness’ here in Cornwall, and that has meant a backlog of deadlines.

Today – 12 November 2012 – is the second anniversary of the death of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki.  Two nights ago, Polish Television broadcast a new documentary about him (Please Find, directed by Violetta Rotter-Kozera), with contributors from Europe and America, including myself.  I should have been in Katowice last Friday to see a private screening with the family, but circumstances got in the way.  I’m looking forward to seeing it in due course.

This morning, BBC Radio 3 broadcast the second movement of his Third Symphony, choosing not Dawn Upshaw’s breakthrough recording (now 20 years old), but the first ever recording, by Stefania Woytowicz with the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jerzy Katlewicz.  Upshaw and Woytowicz are two quite different singers, and I admire them both, but for me that first recording captures the excitement and extraordinary atmosphere of the late 1970s and the powerful shock that the symphony made on me and on others who were lucky enough to come across it at the time.  It was this recording, for example, that captivated the conductor David Atherton, who played a huge role in promoting it during the 1980s.

This is all a bit by-the-by.  I had intended to visit Henryk’s grave on my visit to Katowice.  Niestety, nie zdążyłem.  I did, however, manage to visit Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw last month, mainly to pay homage to particular people, but also to sample again its special atmosphere.

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Finding it as it was.

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My first main port of call was the grave of my friend, the Polish musicologist and critic, Andrzej Chłopecki, who had died a month earlier.

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Some distance away, not far from the cemetery chapel, lie a number of composers and conductors who shaped Polish music in the second half of the twentieth century.  First and foremost, there’s the grave of Witold Lutosławski and his wife.

Here’s the grave from the rear.  I was present at his funeral and watched from this vantage point as his stepson climbed into the grave to place his urn on the floor of the chamber.  It now has a classically restrained gravestone and had evidently been attended to recently.

Next door lies that great champion of Polish music, the conductor Witold Rowicki. His grave is more demonstrative!

A little further to the right of Rowicki’s grave is one set aside for Jan Krenz, a champion of contemporary Polish music.  It seems strange to me (but it’s not unusual there) that such monuments are erected before death.

Behind Rowicki’s grave is that of Stefan Rachoń – a far less well-known conductor, at least outside Poland –  and his widow, the opera singer Barbara Nieman.

On the other side of the main path from these graves are several more.  Notable among them are those of Kazimierz Serocki and Tadeusz Baird, whose music deserves to be far more widely known and appreciated.  Baird, Krenz and Serocki formed ‘Grupa ’49’ as the youngest generation of composers during post-war socialist realism.

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One of the most striking graves is that of the film-maker, Krzysztof Kieślowski.  If only I had his eye for framing.

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