• In His Element

1450790520I’ve been meaning for a few weeks to mention a new recording of Górecki’s most challenging composition.  In fact, it is only the second time that Genesis I: Elementi for three string instruments (1962) has appeared on CD.  It was first issued on Olympia OCD 375 (1994) in a performance by members of the Silesian Quartet (Kwartet Śląski) recorded the previous year.  Given the closeness of Górecki to the Silesian Quartet – they all lived and worked in Katowice – it is certain that he worked with them on the piece and may even have been present at the recording.  The players will remember.  Although it is not now generally available, it sometimes appears as a ‘used’ CD.

Last month a second recording appeared, on Challenge Classics CC72713 (CD and mp3 download), in a performance by the Goeyvaerts String Trio recorded last year.

gorecki-2-c-adrian-thomas3It was a particular thrill when the cellist Pieter Stas asked if I would let them include in the booklet a photo of Górecki that I had taken in the summer of 1987.  I was staying with the Górecki family in Chochołów, not far from Zakopane in southern Poland, and we had taken a long walk across country amidst the hay stacks.  We eventually reached a farm where Górecki and his wife Jadwiga had spent their honeymoon in 1959.  Twenty eight years later, they were thrilled to find that the farmer was still there. This is a little record of that reunion.  But to more important matters.

The Goeyvaerts recording differs in key respects to that of the Silesians.  For one thing, it is a Hybrid Surround recording, so Górecki’s stipulation of spatial separation between the three players has been brilliantly realised (the score specifies a triangular layout with 10-12 metres between violin and cello and 6-8 metres from the viola to the other two instruments).  Secondly, the new recording is closer in timing to Górecki’s 12’42”.  Where the Silesian Quartet came in at a nifty 10’37”, the Goeyvaerts Trio, at 13’22”, is 2’45” longer.

I have listened to the earlier recording so many times that it is now firmly imprinted.  It is raw, urgent and immediate and I still think that it captures Górecki’s fierceness and the white-hot passion in which he composed it in February-March 1962.  I wouldn’t be without it.  The Goeyvaerts Trio brings a new dimension, both physically in terms of the movement of sound and in the grinding insistence that the slower tempo brings.  The ear is compelled to examine the textures more closely, rather than being swept along, and different details emerge, especially in the quieter moments where lyrical delicacy not ferocious brutality holds sway.  Without losing cohesion, the Goeyvaerts players bring out Górecki’s mantra (which he repeated to me on a number of occasions) that this is a work for three string instruments, not for string trio.  So bravo to Kristien Roels, Kris Matthynssens and Pieter Stas for bringing to new ears this vital but rarely performed work from a 28-year-old Górecki.

• Bôłt & 58th ‘Warsaw Autumn’ CDs

More Polish CD goodies came through the post this morning.  First there was a selection of five new releases from the innovative Bôłt Records.  I’m particularly intrigued by three CDs exploring Schubert’s Winterreise.  Details of these and other releases may be found on Bôłt’s English-language website.

IMG_8446 copySecondly, I opened the boxed set of the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ sound chronicle for 2015 (six CDs).  This annual post-Christmas gift is not available commercially but is distributed to institutions and interested parties by the Polish Music Information Centre, and it is always a treat to savour.  As in recent years, the bulk of the recordings is of non-Polish music, and several of the main festival events – indoor and outdoor installations, music theatre – would not have suited the CD format.  Here’s the complete list of recordings (Polish composers in bold, ** = world premiere, * = Polish premiere):

CD1
• Alvin Lucier: Slices for cello and orchestra (2007)* 20’49”
Lidia Zielińska: Sinfonia concertante for small sound devices, small percussion and large orchestra (2014-15)**  26’13”
• Helmut Lachenmann: Air for percussion and large orchestra (1968-69, rev. 1994)  17’42”
• Justė Janulytė: Textile for orchestra (2006-08)*  10’55”

CD2
• Philippe Manoury: Zones de turbulences for two pianos and orchestra (2013)* 13’47”
• Simon Steen-Andersen: Double Up for sampler and small orchestra (2010)*  17’23”
• Ken Ueno: …blood blossoms… for amplified sextet (2002)*  11’45”
Marta Śniady: aer for clarinet/bass clarinet and chamber ensemble (2014)  19’25”
• Stefan Prins: Fremdkörper #3 (mit Michael Jackson) for cgamber ensemble and sampler (2010)*  13’10”

CD3
Jerzy Kornowicz: Wielkie Przejście (The Big Crossing) for piano and other concertante instruments and orchestra (2013)*  19’56”
• Carola Bauckholt: Emil will nicht schlafen… for voice and orchestra (2010)*  9’31”
• José María Sánchez-Verdú: Mural for large orchestra (2009-10)*  15’36”
• Phill Niblock: Baobab for orchestra (2011)*  22’05”

CD4
Paweł Hendrich: Pteropetros for accordion, wind quintet and string quartet (2015)**  15’08”
• Raphaël Cendo: In Vivo for string quartet (2008-11)*  19’45”
Michał Pawełek: Ephreia for string quartet, wind quintet and electronics (2008, new version 2015)**  20’45”
• Alex Mincek: …it conceals within itself… for string trio and piano (2007)*  10’25”

CD5
• Johannes Schöllhorn: Niemandsland for ensemble (2009)*  19’56”
• Vito Žuraj: Re-slide for solo trombone and ensemble (2012, rev. 2015)**  14’39”
Szymon Stanisław Strzelec: L’Atelier de sensorité for amplified prepared cello and chamber orchestra (2015)**  9’55”
• Ragnild Berstad: Cardinem for large ensemble (2014)*  12’11”
• Giacinto Scelsi: Anahit for violin and 18 instruments (1965)  11’31”

CD6 ‘Young Composers’ Carte Blanche’ (prizewinners of the 6th Zygmunt Mycielski Composition Competition)
Dominik Lasota: Concerto for Eight Instruments (2015)**  11’11”
Fabian Rynkowicz: Chaos for ensemble (2015)**  7’39”
• Aruto Matsumoto: Reunion for ensemble (2015)**  9’06”
Marcin Piotr Łopacki: Musica concertante op.74 for ensemble (2015)**  10’07”
Aleksandra Chmielewska: Trans-4-mation for ensemble (2015)**  6’16”
Żaneta Rydzewska: MorE for ensemble (2015)**  11’19”

• New CD Note (Różycki/Hyperion)

034571280660In the last few of years of writing CD notes, I have unexpectedly been travelling back in time to Polish repertoire, little of which I knew.  It began back in 1998, with a note on Paderewski’s Symphony ‘Polonia’, followed by a CD of his major piano works.  But the trend has accelerated recently with notes on Zarębski (Piano Quintet – which I did know!), Żeleński (Piano Quartet, Piano Concerto), Zarzycki (Grande Polonaise, Piano Concerto), Dobrzyński (Overture to Monbar, Piano Concerto, Symphony no.2) and Scharwenka (Piano Concertos 1-4).  The world of the curious listener is forever indebted to the two UK companies – Hyperion and Chandos – that have made this and other neglected repertoire available.

Now I can add another name to the roster: Ludomir Różycki (concertante works for piano and orchestra), and there’s another CD in the pipeline of piano quintets by Różycki and Ignacy Friedman.  Różycki was part of the short-lived composer collective a few years into the 20th century – Młoda Polska w Muzyce (Young Poland in Music) – that also included Szymanowski.  But Różycki’s music rarely penetrated outside Poland and even within Poland he is known primarily for one score, the ballet Pan Twardowski (Mr Twardowski).  I saw this many moons ago, and it is a totally delightful and brilliantly characterised piece of Tchaikovskian whimsy, with the necessary dark undertow.  This new CD of Różycki’s music has many surprises as well as confirming him as a dyed-in-the-wool conservative with a clear lyrical gift.  The Second Piano Concerto in particular raises as many questions as it answers, probably as a consequence of the time and place of its composition (1941, Warsaw).

Here’s the link to my booklet note for Hyperion’s The Romantic Piano Concerto 67: Różycki, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• And here’s a little extra post – When was Różycki born? – that tries to shed some light on the mistaken belief (see major dictionaries) that Różycki was born in 1884, not 1883.

• Górecki Goodies

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 12.35.33

• Four Videos on Górecki Symphony 4

In a week’s time, Nonesuch will release a recording of Górecki’s posthumous Symphony no 4 ‘Tansman Episodes’, both as part of a seven-CD Górecki retrospective and as a single CD.  In the run-up to the release, it has posted four short videos around Górecki’s last major orchestral work.  The YouTube originals are in larger format – click on an image or on the url below:

Mikołaj Górecki
http://www.nonesuch.com/journal/watch-mikolaj-gorecki-completing-father-henryk-symphony-4-2016-01-08
mikolaj-gorecki-interview-1200x628• = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tt39eSv2C2Y

Adrian Thomas
• http://www.nonesuch.com/journal/watch-adrian-thomas-henryk-gorecki-symphony-4-liner-notes-2016-01-11
adrian-thomas-interview-1200x628• = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8o4HGPphoN8

Andrey Boreyko (in German with English subtitles)
• http://www.nonesuch.com/journal/watch-conductor-andrey-boreyko-henryk-gorecki-symphony-4-2016-01-12
andrey-boreyko-interview-1200x628• = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tlynv1YjxlY

World Premiere (excerpt from Finale)
• http://www.nonesuch.com/journal/watch-london-philharmonic-orchestra-premieres-henryk-gorecki-symphony-4-2015-01-13
lpo-gorecki-symphony-4-live-1200x628• = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHzfiNLR3Nc

• News from Nonesuch

Nonesuch Records has announced a number of Górecki releases for September 2015. Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 19.42.19Prime among them is a recording of the premiere of the Fourth Symphony, given by the London PO under Andrey Boreyko in April 2014.  This recording will also be available as part of a 7-CD box set that will bring together all of Nonesuch’s previous releases of Górecki’s music:

Euntes ibant et flebant (1972) • Amen (1975) • Symphony 3 ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ (1976) • Broad Waters (1979) • Harpsichord Concerto (1980) • Miserere (1981) • My Vistula, Grey Vistula (1981) • Lerchenmusik (1984) • String Quartet 1 ‘Already It Is Dusk’ (1988) • Good Night (1990) • String Quartet 2 ‘ Quasi una fantasia’ (1991) • Little Requiem (1993) • String Quartet 3 ‘… songs are sung’ (1995/2005) • Symphony 4 ‘Tansman Episodes’ (2006; completed by Mikołaj Górecki)

Nonesuch is also promising a release of Symphony 3 on LP.

  • UPDATE, 16 September 2015: Nonesuch has postponed the launch until January 2016.

• New CD Note (Szymański & Mykietyn/Hyperion)

034571280851This is the third CD by the Royal String Quartet for which I have had the pleasure and privilege of writing the booklet note.  Following on from the RSQ’s recordings of string quartets by Górecki and Penderecki and Lutosławski, Hyperion is now – with great initiative – drawing attention to music by younger Polish composers who are far less well-known outside Poland.  Paweł Szymański and Paweł Mykietyn are fascinating composers, and this CD is a terrific introduction to their chamber music.  These four works, dating from 1982 to 2013, are given performances with the clarity, insight and verve that are the hallmark of the RSQ.

Here’s the link to my booklet note for the Szymański and Mykietyn String Quartets, or you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• New CD Note (Szymanowski vol.3/Chandos)

CHSA 5143

It’s ‘You’, not ‘I’.

The third volume of Edward Gardner’s Szymanowski CD series on Chandos has just been released.  It contains one of Szymanowski’s best-known compositions – the Third Symphony, The Song of the Night – alongside two earlier and lesser-known works, the First Symphony and the orchestral version of Love Songs of Hafiz.  It’s been a great privilege to have written the booklet notes for this and the preceding Lutosławski series.

This time, however, I received an additional request: would I make a new translation of the poem, by Jalal al-Din al-Rumi, that Szymanowski used in the Third Symphony?  The translation was not to be from the original Persian (fortunately!), but from Tadeusz Miciński’s Polish version, which was itself preceded by a German paraphrase. Chandos wanted an English translation that was as faithful as possible to the Polish.

This was quite a task for a non-poet and non-professional translator.  Occasionally, Miciński’s vocabulary can be prosaic.  The translation in the published score of The Song of the Night is by Ann and Adam Czerniawscy (1970). Their version of the two lines:

Targowiska już ucichły.
Patrz na rynek gwiezdanych dróg nocy tej!

reads as follows:

Thorough-fares on earth are silent.
There behold the starry roads of this night.

But even Czerniawski (a distinguished poet and translator) and his wife have had to draw a veil over the fact that targowiska and rynek are virtually synonymous and mean ‘marketplace’.  My version, for what it’s worth, stays as close as possible to Miciński:

The marketplaces have now stilled.
Look at the market square of starry trails this night!

The 1970 translation is beautifully poetic, but it has another curiosity.  As Miciński proceeds to name stars and constellations, he writes:

Andromeda i Merkury krwawo lśni nocy tej!

The Czerniawscy, again presumably to fit the scansion of Szymanowski’s vocal line, change this to:

Sagittarius and the Virgin blood-red gleam through this night.

I have restored the original names:

Andromeda and Mercury glisten blood-red this night!

The most surprising thing was to realise that no-one (including myself) has previously observed – at least in books or CD booklets – that Szymanowski made a change to the end of al-Rumi’s poem and Miciński’s translation.  (The Szymanowski authority, Teresa Chylińska, has included the change in her transcription, but apparently without comment.)  What Szymanowski did was to add a final extra line that had already appeared in the Symphony, early in the central section:

Ja i Bóg jesteśmy sami tej nocy!
I and God are alone together this night!

Szymanowski’s repetition is not all that it seems.  Crucially, he has changed the poet’s focus from himself to his Beloved.  ‘I’ becomes ‘You’.

Ty i Bóg jesteście sami tej nocy!
You and God are alone together this night!

I’m no literary analyst or philosopher, but it seems to me that this refocusing is radical.  It gives the final moments a quite different profundity than that of Miciński’s original.  This needs to be acknowledged, both in the scholarly and the wider public understanding of Szymanowski intentions in The Song of the Night.

Here’s the link to my booklet note for this new Szymanowski CDor you can scroll the CD NOTES tab above.

• The Spoils of Warsaw

One of the many joys of visiting Poland over the decades has been searching out scores, books and recordings (not to mention classic posters and dark spadziowy honey).  This year was no different.  I’d not been in Warsaw since last November, so there was plenty to catch up on and to indulge my hunter-gatherer tendencies.

There are two major music shops in Warsaw.  One is SAWART (online Polish-language link here) on Moliera at Plac Teatralny near Teatr Wielki.  The other is the shop in what used to be the Akademia Muzyczna Fryderyka Chopina and what is now the Uniwersytet Muzyczny Fryderyka Chopina.  You can also find CDs and DVDs in branches of EMPIK and at Teatr Wielki’s own shop.

Books

Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 16.00.45Two Panufnik volumes have appeared in Poland in his centenary year.  The first is a reissue of his autobiography Composing Myself (1987), translated in 1990 as Panufnik o Sobie (Panufnik on Himself), although this paperback omitted the photographs from the UK edition.  It has been republished in hardback as Panufnik. Autobiografia with a supplementary section by his widow Camilla covering the final years of his life.  An English-language reprint, likewise updated and with additional documentation, is in press … watch this space.

The next Panufnik publication is the third in a sequence of interview recollections published by Polish Music Publishers PWM.  Scan 3First was Górecki. Portret w pamięci (Górecki. A Portrait in Memory, 2013), consisting of 42 interviews carried out by Beata Bolesławska-Lewandowska. The second, slimmer volume inaugurated a new series ‘Rozmowy o kompozytorach’ (Conversations on Composers) and heralded a new design.  The interviews for Lutosławski. Skrywany wulkan (Lutosławski. A Hidden Volcano, 2013) were carried out by Aleksander Laskowski and focused on just four conductors: Edward Gardner, Simon Rattle, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Antoni Wit.  Both of these publications won major book prizes in Poland this year. Laskowski’s interviews will be published in English by Chester Music.

Scan 4Now comes Panufnik. Architekt emocji (Panufnik. Architect of Emotion, 2014), with a preface by the poet Adam Zagajewski.  It was launched during this year’s ‘Warsaw Autumn’ in the presence of Panufnik’s widow Camilla.  The author is again Beata Bolesławska-Lewandowska, whose authoritative biography (PWM, 2001) will be published in English by Ashgate in the coming months.  She spoke to twelve people:

Łukasz Borowicz, the conductor of the comprehensive cpo series of eight CDs of Panufnik’s orchestral music
Roxanna Panufnik, Panufnik’s daughter and composer
Andrzej Dzierżyński, the painter and family friend, whose images adorn the covers of all but one (no.2) of the eight cpo CDs
Gerard Schwarz, conductor-laureate of the Seattle SO with whom he made a CD of Panufnik’s music in 1996
Stanisław Skrowaczewski, the conductor and composer, still active on the podium aged 91, who knew Panufnik early in their lives
Wanda Wiłkomirska, the violinist whose 1980 performance of Panufnik’s Violin Concerto can be heard on the new ninateka.pl site
Camilla Panufnik, the composer’s widow and tireless supporter since they met in England in the early 1960s
Ewa Pobłocka, who has made two commercial recordings of Panufnik’s Piano Concerto, one of them under the composer’s baton
Mark Stephenson, the British conductor who worked closely with the composer in his later years
Wojciech Michniewski, an insightful interpreter of contemporary Polish music who shared the podium with Panufnik during the concert when the composer conducted his Tenth Symphony in Warsaw in September 1990
Jem Panufnik, Panufnik’s son and graphic designer and musician
Julian Anderson, composer

I’ve not had time to read the interviews properly, but one observation by Julian Anderson caught my attention.  He concludes (p.243) that ‘one of the main things that Panufnik bequeathed to Polish music after his escape was the Polish experimental creativity that developed after 1956’ (I am translating from the Polish; these may not have been Anderson’s exact words).  This demands more scrutiny than this post allows, so I will return to this anon.

Scan 5Another book just hitting the shops is a compilation of writings by the music critic and broadcaster Andrzej Chłopecki, who died in 2012 in his early fifties: Dziennik Ucha. Słuchane na ostro (Ear Diary. Sharp Listening).  Chłopecki’s loss is still keenly felt, because he was unafraid to speak his mind, was not fazed by the establishment and quizzed everyone and everything.  His writings and charismatic radio broadcasts brought zest and intelligent prickliness to musical and philosophical debate.  This collection, running to over 500 pages,  brings together Chłopecki’s columns for Res Publica Nowa – ‘Dziennik Ucha’ (Ear Diary, 1993-98) and Gazeta Wyborcza – ‘Słuchane na ostro’ (Sharp Listening, 2001-11).  His range was astonishing.  His essays give pause for thought as well as huge enjoyment.  Sadly, they are unlikely to be translated into English.

However, there is good news on a related front.  The collection of Chłopecki’s essays on Lutosławski’s compositions, published as Andrzej Chłopecki. PostSłowie (Andrzej Chłopecki. AfterWord) in 2012, is a testament to his ability to look at – and to enable listeners to hear – music afresh.  And in the case of a composer as much discussed and analysed as Lutosławski, that was a very special gift.  The book, which he oversaw in the smallest detail and signed off just before his death, has now been translated into English by John Comber and may be out by the end of this year.

Encyklopedia Muzyczna

Finally, I have completed the set.  EM’s first volume ‘ab’ was published 35 years ago.  The series was completed by vol.12 ‘w-ż’ in two years ago.  There have also been supplements, necessary given the protracted timespan of the encyclopaedia – ‘ab’ (1998) and cd (2001) – although this process has stalled.  Instead, PWM has brought out special composer supplements: Chopin (2010), Górecki (2011), Szymanowski (2012) and Wieniawski (2011).  The Górecki volume is quite slight.  It runs to just 18 pages and was issued to commemorate the composer after his death in 2010.  It has an updated work list (but does not include posthumously released works like the Fourth Symphony), bibliography and a brand-new essay by Maciej Jabłoński.  The others supplements are more substantive: the Wieniawski has over 70 pages, the Szymanowski over 130 and the Chopin 180.Scan 2

This time I picked up a copy of the Lutosławski supplement (77 pages), published in 2013. In addition to an essay written by the late Jadwiga Paja-Stach and by Zbigniew Skowron, there are individual entries on over 60 performers, composers, poets, publishers and authors closely associated with him.  It is an honour to have been included in this distinguished gathering.

Recordings

Scan 7Various CDs have come my way in recent months, not least a range of discs from the ever-productive DUX company.  I also received a smart boxed set from Sinfonia Varsovia issued to mark the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising and the end of Word War II.  This non-commercial 3-CD set is called (a little loosely) Anthology of Polish Contemporary Music 1939-1945 and it contains much music that is hard to find elsewhere on disc.  The conducting duties for the twelve pieces are shared between Renato Rivolta (6), Jerzy Maksymiuk (5) and Jacek Kaspszyk (1).  There is an excellent booklet essay by Katarzyna Naliwajek-Mazurek.  The complete repertoire is:

Grażyna Bacewicz, Overture (1943)
Andrzej Czajkowski, Piano Concerto no.2 (1966-71), with Maciej Grabowski
Tadeusz Zygfryd Kassern, Concerto for String Orchestra (1943)
Stefan Kisielewski, Concerto for Chamber Orchestra (1944, 1949)
Witold Lutosławski, Symphonic Variations (1938)
Andrzej PanufnikTragic Overture (1942)
Andrzej Panufnik, Sinfonia elegiaca (1957, 1966)
Karol Rathaus, Music for Strings (1941)
Ludomir RóżyckiPietà. On Smouldering Ruins of Warsaw (1942, 1944)
Antoni Szałowski, Overture (1936)
Aleksander Tansman, Rapsodia polska (1940)
Mieczysław Weinberg, Cello Concerto (1948), with Marcel Markowski

Contemporary composers in Poland have as difficult time as anywhere getting their music heard and recorded, but there have been some initiatives in recent years to plug some of the gaps.  The ‘Warsaw Autumn’ annual chronicle of seven or more CDs provides a permanent reminder of live performances.  The chronicle is non-commercial, but libraries, institutes and interested individuals may request to be put on the distribution list.  The recordings come with either the Polish or English programme book for the year.  Enquiries may be made via this link.

In 2009, DUX launched an initiative called Young Polish Composers in Homage/Tribute to Frederic Chopin, in honour of the composer’s bicentenary in 2010.  The eleven CDs in the series introduced ten Polish composers and one Czech to the wider public:

Stanisław Bromboszcz (b.1980): Chamber Music, DUX 0746
Michał Dobrzyński (b.1980): Expression DUX 0752
Marcin Gumiela (b.1980): Sacred Works DUX 0753
Paweł Hendrich (b.1979): Chamber Works DUX 0754
Michał Moc (b.1977): Emotions DUX 0756
Dariusz Przybylski (b.1984): Works for Orchestra DUX 0721
• Weronika Ratusińska (b.1977): Works for Orchestra DUX 0723
Agnieszka Stulgińska (b.1978): Chamber Works DUX 0759
Sławomir Zamuszko (b.1973): Works for Orchestra DUX 0724
Wojciech Ziemowit Zych (b.1976): Works for Orchestra DUX 0722
+ the Czech composer
• Kryštof Mařatka (b.1972): Chamber Works DUX 0784

DUX prefaced the series in 2008 with a double sampler CD DUX 0635/0636, with mostly different pieces plus works by two other composers who did not go on to have had their own individual CDs: Marcin Stańczyk (b.1977) and Marcin Tomasz Strzelecki (b.1975).

On my visit to Warsaw last week I came across a more recent series devoted mostly to an older generation of Polish composers.  Under the heading Polish Music Today. Portraits of Contemporary Polish Composers, Polish Radio and the Polish Music Information Centre launched ten CDs earlier this year.  They are available via the Polish Radio online shop (click on links below), where you will also find information on each composer and tracks, but only in Polish.  The intention is to develop the project further.  The ten lucky composers so far are:

Magdalena Długosz (b.1954): PRCD 1743
Jacek Grudzień (b.1961): PRCD 1746
Aleksander Kościów (b.1974): PRCD 1750
Zbigniew Penherski (b.1935): PRCD 1741
Jarosław Siwiński (b.1964): PRCD 1747
Michał Talma-Sutt (1969): PRCD 1748
Ewa Trębacz (1973): PRCD 1749
Tadeusz Wielecki (b.1954): PRCD 1744
Anna Zawadzka-Gołosz (1955): PRCD 1745
Lidia Zielińska (b.1953): PRCD 1742

Now I must get down to some serious reading and listening…

• Toasting Pianophonie

One of the highlights of this year’s Warsaw Autumn was the performance of Kazimierz Serocki’s Pianophonie (1976-78) for piano, electronics and orchestra at the closing concert two days ago.  I was gutted not to able to get to the concert, so I had to make do with listening online just a few miles away.  Its impact was still startling.  Serocki was an original, a composer who kept his avant-garde head while many around him were losing theirs.

Today I saw a link to a review by Tadeusz Deszkiewicz, who had a family connection with Stanisław Wisłocki, the conductor of the Polish premiere at the 1979 Warsaw Autumn.  I’ve taken the liberty of translating (I hope faithfully) Deszkiewicz’s recollections and thoughts.

You can hear the 1979 recording here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJt5zotNk10.

___________

Kazimierz Serocki’s Pianophonie, under the baton of Jacek Kaspszyk, dominated the final concert.  I was curious to see how this work would sound today, 35 years after its Polish premiere during the 23rd Warsaw Autumn in 1979.  I was in the Philharmonic then not only because I was a radio journalist at Polish Radio 2 but also because it was my uncle, Stanisław Wisłocki, who was conducting.

The work was recorded before the Warsaw Autumn, and Wisłocki later described the event:

On 13 September (1979) we were in Warsaw, in the National Philharmonic Hall, for two rehearsals and a recording for LP of Kazimierz Serocki’s composition, Pianophonie.  For its performance it was necessary to import special electronic sound-processing equipment from Germany. […]  The soloist was the pianist Szabolcs Esztényi, who thanks to a special console placed next to the piano drew out of it a variety of sound effects.  He and the natural sound of the orchestra created a soundscape hitherto not used in music.  Serocki wrote this interesting composition in 1976-1978 on the initiative and at the request of Radio Südwestfunk in Baden-Baden and the Freiburg Experimental Studio.  It was the first performance in Poland and probably the last, because it is unlikely that any Polish orchestra can again afford to bring this incredibly complicated, unique and vast apparatus from the Federal Republic of Germany.

Wisłocki could not have imagined that, 35 years later, miniaturisation would have eliminated the vast apparatus and the group of technicians to support it.  And so today, for the first time, we heard an absolutely new electronic version of Pianophonie, which gave Serocki’s piece a fresh, excellent sound.  The creation of new software and the digital processing of the analog recording was created from ​​Kamil Kęska’s original.  The effect was revelatory, and the audience’s cries of delight and long applause greeted the work.  The excellent pianist Adam Kosmieja also aroused admiration.  He had the task of simultaneously playing the piano at breakneck speed, extracting sounds directly from the strings and using the computer placed next to him.  It takes a great musician to realise this difficult music so excellently, keeping in mind the phrasing, dynamic range and technical perfection required.

In 1979, the Warsaw audience also received the work very warmly. Wisłocki wrote:

After the interval, we performed Kazimierz Serocki’s Pianophonię (c.30′), in which the role of the sound engineer Hans Peter Haller was as important as that of the other performers.  The audience gave Serocki an ovation. After the concert, Kazimierz hosted a party at his home.  There was a great deal of vodka.  Kazio drank continuously to one and all and by the end of the party he was just reeling.  I did not even try to reason with him, because it would not have helped. […]  A few days later, I received the news that Kazio had been taken to hospital with symptoms of a cerebral haemorrhage.

After returning home from convalescence, Kazimierz Serocki tried to write with his left hand (his right hand was incapacitated after the stroke), but Pianophonie was to be his last piece.  This great composer – a co-founder of the ‘Warsaw Autumn’ – died in January 1981.

Tadeusz Deszkiewicz, 28 September 2014

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