• 5 Archival Polish Music Videos

Five videos of Polish music have newly been made available online.  They date from 1968-75 and are all of performances at the Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw during the annual ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival.  There are two pieces by Lutosławski and one each by Baird, Penderecki and Serocki.  Not only can we now witness Peter Pears, Wanda Wiłkomirska and Karl-Erik Welin in action but we can also experience Lutosławski conducting his own music as well as appreciate that inspirational and tireless champion of new music, Andrzej Markowski (1924-86).  Many Polish composers owed him a huge debt of gratitude, including Baird, Penderecki and Serocki.

In chronological order of recording, these five videos are:

• Krzysztof Penderecki: Capriccio for violin and orchestra (1967).  Wanda Wiłkomirska, National Philharmonic, cond. Andrzej Markowski, 21 September 1968 (opening concert).
• Kazimierz Serocki: Fantasia elegiaca for organ and orchestra (1972).  Karl-Erik Welin, Sinfonie-Orchester des Hessischen Rundfunks, Frankfurt, cond. Andrzej Markowski, 28 September 1973 (Polish premiere).
Very little of Serocki’s music post-1956 is available in audio formats, let alone video, so this upload is welcome.
• Witold Lutosławski: Preludes and Fugue for thirteen solo strings(1972).  Chamber Ensemble of the National Philharmonic, cond. Lutosławski, 30 September 1973 (Polish premiere).
A minor frustration here: this was the first half of the concert which closed the 1973 festival.  In the second half, Lutosławski conducted Heinrich Schiff in the much-postponed Polish premiere of the Cello Concerto.  How I would love to see a video of that!
• Tadeusz Baird: Elegeia (1973).  National Philharmonic, cond. Andrzej Markowski, 21 September 1974 (opening concert).
• Witold Lutosławski: Paroles tissées (1965).  Peter Pears, Chamber Ensemble of the National Philharmonic, cond. Lutosławski, 25 September 1975.
Peter Pears had been the dedicatee and first performer of this song cycle at the Aldeburgh Festival ten years earlier, on 20 June 1965This was not its Polish premiere, but it was the only time that Pears sang it there.

• Górecki’s ‘Ad Matrem’ premiere on video

Once again I’m indebted to the eagle eyes of Tim Rutherford-Johnson (http://johnsonsrambler.wordpress.com/) who tweeted yesterday (https://twitter.com/#!/moderncomp) about a YouTube video he’d discovered of the premiere of Górecki’s Ad Matrem.  It’s a black and white film made by Polish Television on 24 September 1972 at the final concert of that year’s ‘Warsaw Autumn’ festival.  The venue was the National Philharmonic Hall, with Stefania Woytowicz and the National Philharmonic SO and Choir conducted by Andrzej Markowski.  It’s a bit of a shame that the film cuts out just before Górecki came onto the stage to acknowledge the applause.


The Górecki concluded the concert, and therefore crowned the festival.  Ad Matrem was preceded in the programme by a typically eclectic festival mix of repertoire: Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces, Tomasz Sikorski’s Holzwege (Paths to Nowhere, premiere), Franco Oppo’s Digressione (Polish premiere) and Penderecki’s Partita (also a Polish premiere), with soloists Felicja Blumental and Terje Rypdal.*

Woytowicz went on to give the premieres of Górecki’s second and third symphonies as well as O Domina nostra, which was dedicated to her.  (She also sang Lutosławski’s Lacrimosa at his funeral in 1994.)

Markowski was a great supporter of Górecki’s music, having given the premiere of his Epitafium at the second ‘Warsaw Autumn’, in 1958, and conducting several subsequent premieres: Little Music II (‘Warsaw Autumn’, 1967), Wratislaviae gloria (Wrocław, 1969), Old Polish Music (‘Warsaw Autumn’, 1969) and the Second Symphony with Woytowicz (Warsaw, 1973).  Markowski was a passionate advocate not only of Górecki’s music but also that of other contemporary composers from home and abroad.  Something of his character may be gleaned from the fact that he fought in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 as a member of the Polish underground Home Army.

Górecki’s Ad Matrem (1972) is a powerful and lean work.  The chorus utters only two words (‘Mater mea’), just twice in the early stages. The music’s trajectory, from pulsing bass drums, through these interjections and on to a luminous dominant thirteenth and beyond, is very striking, not least because Górecki places these textures sparingly.  The soprano does not sing her four words (‘Mater mea, lacrimosa dolorosa’) until the closing bars.  I’ve often thought of this approach as painterly in the sense that Patrick Heron, for example, created abstract paintings with a huge swathe of one colour at one end of the canvas but very telling and contrasting colour-blocks at the other end or in isolated patches in between.

* Despite Ad Matrem being one of the most unconventionally moving and striking of Górecki’s works, it has remained largely unrecognised outside Poland, even though it won First Prize at the UNESCO Composers’ Rostrum in Paris in 1973.  In the UK, it took the initiative of the British composer John Casken to bring about the UK premiere. This took place, performed by students at Manchester University under his direction, in December 2002, a full thirty years after its premiere in Warsaw.

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