• Górecki/BBC SO: One Week To Go

This day next week – Saturday 3 October – the BBC Symphony Orchestra is hosting Henryk Górecki: Polish Pioneer, its first Total Immersion day of the 2015-16 season, with the participation of the Silesian String Quartet, the BBC Singers, Mahan Esfahani, Antoni Wit and many others.  There’s a creative project on Totus Tuus and a recent film not seen before in the UK.  I’ll be introducing the film, giving the opening talk and chatting with Petroc Trelawny for the delayed broadcast of the BBC SO’s evening concert.  The recitals by the Silesian String Quartet and BBC Singers will be broadcast live on Radio 3, while the BBC SO concert goes out on the following Tuesday evening, 6 October.

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• 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.

• 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)

• Total Immersion: Henryk Górecki

News_Image_BBC_SOThe Barbican Centre, London, has just announced its programme for 2015-16.  Among the events are three BBC Symphony Orchestra ‘Total Immersion’ days devoted to Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (3 October 2015), Louis Andriessen (13 February 2016) and Henri Dutilleux (30 April 2016).

The programme for the Górecki day covers chamber, choral and orchestral music.  I am particularly pleased to see the programme for the final event, when the BBC SO will be conducted – for the first time – by Antoni Wit, with a line-up of exciting soloists.  The programme is terrific: the UK premiere of Kyrie and the effervescent Harpsichord Concerto, framed by two rarely performed but characteristically gritty and luminous works from Górecki’s late 30s.  It will be quite a day.

• 11.00  Talk: ‘Henryk Górecki, Polish Pioneer’; given by me…
• 13.00  String Quartets nos 1 (1988) and 2 (1991); Silesian String Quartet
• 15.00  Film: Please Find Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (2012, dir. Violetta Rotter-Kozera); introduced by me…
• 17.30  Totus Tuus (1987), Four Preludes (1955), Marian Songs (1985), Church Songs (1986, selection); BBC Singers, conducted by James Morgan, pianist tba
• 19.00  Learning Project culmination
• 19.30  Old Polish Music (1969), Kyrie* (2005), Harpsichord Concerto (1980), Second Symphony ‘Copernican’ (1972); Mahan Esfahani, Marie Arnet and Neal Davies, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC SO, conducted by Antoni Wit; BBC recording co-presented by me…

[October 2015: the full programme notes are available here]

• Polish Composer Doodles Revealed

Last week I posted two doodles cropped from working materials of the 1950s by two Polish composers.

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Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 16.29.58Here they are on their full pages.

The first comes from the first score of Symfonia pokoju (Symphony of Peace, 1950-51) by Andrzej Panufnik.  The blue-ink score is not in Panufnik’s hand, but it is overlaid with many markings and revisions in pencil and coloured crayon that are in his hand.  It is clear that Panufnik used this score to conduct the rehearsals for and first performance of Symfonia pokoju on 25 May 1951.  The revisions may or may not have been made during rehearsals for the premiere.  Panufnik would revise it again for publication by the Polish publishing house PWM (1952) and yet again when he renamed it Sinfonia elegiaca (1957).

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 10.41.18The doodle – the only one on this score – comes during the central movement.  It seems decorative rather than compositionally functional.  I am no expert, but like so many doodles it has repetitive, symmetrical qualities.  These, of course, tie in with Panufnik’s lifelong obsession with mirrored patterns.  Here there is an untidy vertical dislocation between the bottom and top parts of the doodle (or is it an attempt at perspective?).  More intriguingly, the top part seems to be built around a cross, with lines radiating outwards from its centre.  I can find no reason why it appears where it does, but then that is also a common feature of doodles.

The second doodle is of a different character and arguably is more like a graphic representation of an aural intention.  It comes from Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s first sketchbook and relates to his pre-compositional work on the First Symphony ‘1959’.  The intersecting angular lines of different strengths are typical of Górecki’s directness and forcefulness.

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 16.38.11The annotation indicates that it relates to the second movement, ‘Antiphon’.  Below the line is a short sequence of seven notes.  This is the opening phrase of Poland’s most famous hymn, Bogurodzica, a source of inspiration for a wide range of composers, Górecki and Panufnik included.  In this instance, Górecki may have been echoing it in the finished score by using unison notes in ‘Antiphon’ and an oscillation between D natural and C natural in the third movement, ‘Chorale’.

 

• Reviews in translation (Górecki-Gibbons)

Penderecki_Gorecki_LutoslawskiFacebook friends will know that I posted last week about an unusual event at Warsaw’s Grand Theatre that was taking place on Saturday 29 November.  Here are my translations of two reviews that have since reached me (apologies for any linguistic infelicities).  I don’t usually occupy myself with reviews, as others are better placed to do them.  But the nature of the event is such that I think these opinions from Sunday 30 November may be of interest. They were written for well-regarded newspaper outlets, polityka.pl and wyborcza.pl.

I’m not going to develop the arguments here, but I may well return, in another post, to the trend of not leaving composers’ works alone.  Chopin is one thing, and his music has been used a creative resource for many years.  But in recent years in Poland it has been the music of lately deceased or living composers that has come in for treatment that ranges from ‘dressing-up’ to something more materially radical.  But that is for another day.

The first of the reviews comes from Dorota Szwarcman’s online blog for Polityka.

Three People, Two People and Spotlights (Trzech, dwóch i reflektory)

Dorota Szwarcman

The purpose of the concert at the Grand Theatre was to record it for DVD, but the audience had to endure aggressive noise emanating from antediluvian spotlights.  It was impossible to convince the organisers to do something about it.  In fact, ‘noise’ is an understatement.  It was a din.  It impeded hearing the performances, was superimposed on them and distorted them, especially in the quiet moments. I understand that it will be filtered out in the recording, but why then invite an audience?  They could have recorded it in rehearsal.  And so we felt simply as if we’d been given a kicking.

OK, but we must consider the pieces.  The ‘Three People’ are Penderecki, Lutosławski and Górecki.  As the only surviving member of this trio, it fell to Penderecki to conduct the works of all of them.  There was a continuation of the Penderecki-Greenwood project (48 Responses to Polymorphia was performed again), extended by the new Réponse Lutosławski by Bryce Dessner; plus works by the members of Radiohead and The National (the ‘Two People’), conducted by Bassem Akiki.  And NOSPR [National Symphony Orchestra of Polish Radio] played.

What can one say about these pieces?  My reflection is that people who play music every day which is completely different, sharper, become awfully polite when they suddenly enter the classical world.  Isolated timid clusters are lost in a sea of wistful tonal fragments, this tonality being slightly disturbed, so that everything is not just repeated literally, but is still all very discreet. While the relationship between Greenwood’s piece and Penderecki’s is very obvious – its successive fragments originate in Polymorphia‘s famous final C-major chord – it is hard to see what links Dessner’s composition with Lutosławski’s Funeral Music, perhaps two notes, not more.  It is easier to hear connections with Philip Glass, who has nothing in common with Lutosławski.  The responses therefore do not constitute in either case a counterbalance to the ‘questions’, i.e. the works by Penderecki and Lutosławski.

Another thing: the visuals were terribly distracting, supposedly attractive and interesting (made by the same people who have been in charge of the staging of concerts at Wrocław’s Centenary Hall), but here too expressive and riveting.  It was hard to take in the music at the same time.  There may be some for whom it was easier…

The second half was another story.  Starting with the visuals themselves, which were the work of John Milton, who is in charge of the packaging and staging for Portishead concerts, and ending with the introduction of Beth Gibbons in Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.  In an “excuse me for living” position (I thought that, in her situation, she was being unusually shy, but it turns out that she is always like this), she sat on a chair and sang into a microphone.  It has to be said that she had been really well coached by an expert – after all, she does not read music, knows no Polish and, moreover, has never sung in any language other than English, and furthermore has never sung with an orchestra [AT: although she and Portishead have performed with a backing orchestra]. Somehow she made it happen, even if in some places she had to sing down an octave; she sang in her own way, just as she does with Portishead, the voice slightly murmuring, slightly whining, but clear for all that…  The greatest advantage of this singing was its sincerity and directness – she knew what she was singing about and tried to express it; one may say that her singing was ‘sorrowful’ in reference to the work’s title, though this term is ambiguous.  The visuals underlined the claustrophobic-despressive mood, showing a wall of lichens, murky corridors without end, guttering candles.  All in all, I don’t know the reason for this experiment, because Górecki’s Third Symphony has just no need of popularisation, but apparently foreign concert halls are already interested in this concert.  Well, let’s see.

The second review, also dated 30 November 2014, is by Anna S. Dębowska for Wyborcza.

Anglo-Saxons from the World of Pop in a Concert with Music from the Polish Classics (Anglosasi ze świata popu na jednym koncercie z muzyką polskich klasyków)

Anna S. Dębowska

Radiohead, The National and Portishead connected with Polish music in a National Audiovisual Institute project.  The result was at least debatable, but what kind of art is without controversy?  A review of Saturday’s concert in the Grand Theatre – National Opera in Warsaw.

Commissioned by the National Audiovisual Institute, Jonny Greenwood and Bryce Dessner composed short pieces for string orchestra inspired by Krzysztof Penderecki’s Polymorphia from 1961 (Greenwood) and by Witold Lutosławski’s Funeral Music from 1958 (Dessner).  Beth Gibbons sang the soprano part in Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s Third Symphony ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs’ (1976).  The performances of the Polish music were conducted by Krzysztof Penderecki and the new pieces by Bassem Akiki, the young Lebanese-Polish conductor who made his debut at Wrocław Opera a few years ago.  The National Symphony Orchestra of Polish Radio played.

That about sums it up.  The idea came from Michał Merczyński, head of the National Audiovisual Institute, the artistic selections made by Filip Berkowiczm director of the Kraków festival Sacrum Profanum. “I’m very interested in bringing together the worlds of serious music and ambitious entertainment”, he told Wyborcza. “Such collaborations provide an extraordinary boost to the participants, for their work reaches a whole new audience.  I am glad that Michał Merczyński has once more invited me to collaborate and again allowed me to stir it.”

Water and Fire One Year Later

Indeed, Berkowicz has stirred things up.  He’s already done it many times.  It is sufficient to recall projects like ‘Penderecki Reloaded’ – initiated jointly with Merczyński, processing the classics through performances by Greenwood and Aphex Twin – or ‘Polish Icons’ – with Skalpel remixing Penderecki, Górecki and Lutosławski at Sacrum Profanum [AT: 2014].  But this is nothing compared with Beth Gibbons, the vocalist with the trip-hop group Portishead, cast in the oratorio-cantata soprano role in Górecki’s Third Symphony.

Saturday’s concert was due to happen a year ago during the jubilees of the three great Polish composers.  I do not think that the change of date influenced its reception.  For some it was from start to finish a proposition that was hard to take, while others saw in it an interesting attempt to link different worlds, for which the blurring of boundaries is a trump card.  For others it is an alarming attempt to tamper with copyrighted musical texts.

That is why Gibbons fans reacted enthusiastically, in contrast to classical music connoisseurs, who took the thing with chilly scepticism (the family of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki disassociated themselves from the project). This attempt to reconcile fire with water convinced me more, however, than the compositional proposals of Greenwood and Dessner, who entered too willingly into the role of imitators.

Simple and Authentic Beth Gibbons

Accepting Gibbons in the Górecki demanded openness and a reorientation to a different kind of vocal expression.  It is difficult to measure the star of Portishead as a classical singer and compare her to Stefania Woytowicz, Dawn Upshaw or Zofia Kilanowicz, great performers of the Third Symphony.  Not that vocal strength, that range or that technique.  That is not what it is about.  Despite obvious vocal shortcomings, she found herself surprisingly at home in the atmosphere of Górecki’s music, inspired by the lament of a mother in pain at the death of her son.  The trump card was the musicality, simplicity and authenticity of a non-professional.  She was herself – she sang sitting at the microphone, sheltering behind her hair like an introvert. She must have put in a great deal of work on her Polish, because it sounded impeccable at times.  The high notes were evidently problematic for her, but the amplification helped in producing them.

It was an interesting experiment, but one hopes even so that Gibbons does not spawn imitators (Bjork once turned down an invitation to sing the Third Symphony).  Górecki is only superficially simple and wistful, not suitable for the stage.  Rather he did not approve the use of his music for other purposes, as when he did not permit the Polish distribution of the film in which the director Tony Palmer illustrated the Third Symphony with images of war.

Rockers Write in a Twentieth-Century Fashion

In the case of Greenwood’s and Dessner’s meeting with the classics there was nothing new.  The commissioning of orchestral works from them was the result of compositional try-outs by both musicians. Dessner has had a classical training and has written for the Kronos Quartet.  It is great that someone suggested Lutosławski to him, although Philip Glass was a greater influence in his piece (Réponse Lutosławski) than the great Pole, except maybe for the cluster from Funeral Music.  Even so, the Dessner seems a more interesting, more independent composer that Greenwood with his 48 Responses to Polymorphia, in which he drew liberally from the arsenal of avant-garde and sonoristic devices from the second half of the twentieth century.

Time will tell whether Dessner’s piece will be an encouragement to fans of The National to reach for Lutosławski.  If that happens, there awaits them a meeting with unusually complicated musical material of outstanding expressive qualities.  Saturday’s performance of Funeral Music once again showed that it is a masterpiece.  Likewise, Polymorphia under the baton of its creator, Krzysztof Penderecki, has lost nothing of its freshness and acuity.

It was moving that these pillars of Polish music (Polymorphia, Funeral Music, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) sounded out under the baton of Krzysztof Penderecki, the only performer who had been a witness and co-originator of the era in which these works were created.  He naturally became the keystone of all of the concert’s themes.  Recruiting him for this project was Michał Merczyński’s and Filip Berkowicz’s unquestionable success.

The concert will be released on DVD by NiNA.

 

• Ławka Góreckiego (Górecki’s Bench)

Now with added photos!  Two weeks ago, Anna Górecka and her husband took me to see the Górecki Bench outside his old primary school in Rydułtowy (now the Public Library).  The bench invites one to sit, so I duly did.  It was oddly touching, given that it is just a sculpture.  But I’d much rather have been sitting next to the man himself. Happy 81st, Henryk!

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I wrote about Henryk’s bench when it was unveiled three years ago.  Górecki’s figure is slightly less than life-size.

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The likeness is variable but, as Anna Górecka pointed out, it is best when viewed from his left side.

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It is a pity that the sculptor, like so many visual artists, thought that it would suffice just to throw a few random notes onto the pages of the score that Henryk is reading.  What an opportunity missed.  A few fragments of Elementi (1962) would have been just the thing.

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Still, the sculpture has become quite a draw and appreciated by the local community.  When it was removed a year ago for retouching, the police were inundated with calls from the public saying that it had been stolen.

Early in the day we had driven up and down a street named in Górecki’s honour.  It is more like a boulevard and at two kilometres surely the longest thoroughfare named after a Polish composer.  It is part of Rybnik’s ring road, completed in 2011, and runs south from Rondo Elektrowni to Rondo Solidarności.  He’d have appreciated that.

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• 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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• 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…

• Górecki: Kyrie**

Hot on the heels of the YouTube upload of the premiere of Górecki’s Symphony no.4 (Górecki: Symphony 4**) comes another upload, this time of his Kyrie (2005), which was premiered in Warsaw, in the presence of his widow Jadwiga, on Easter Monday, 21 April 2014.  Górecki dedicated the Kyrie to Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005. This was intended to be part of a large-scale Mass that remained unrealised at Górecki’s death five years later.  Its sombre mood, underpinned by the low-register tolling, is momentarily relieved by the luminous tone of the a cappella ‘Christe elision’, but its general atmosphere is brooding.  The ending is especially haunting, where the expected return of ‘Kyrie eleison’ is replaced by Polish text.  The Kyrie also has echoes of a much earlier, and now almost forgotten work, the powerful Ad Matrem (1970).  On this evidence, the full Mass, had it been completed, would have been monumental.  You can find this recording on NINATEKA too.

 

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