Krzysztof Penderecki: Symphony No 6 'Chinese Songs'; Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Percussion and Celesta. © 2019 Polska Filarmonica Kameralna Sopot

CD Spotlight

A Connection with Mahler

Music by Penderecki, recommended by GEOFF PEARCE

'The Polish Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Sopot, conducted by Wojciech Rajski, is magnificent.'


What a gem of a disk this is. Penderecki wrote eight symphonies in all and this, number six, was the last completed, having sat in the composer's mind for quite some time. This recording of it is paired with the clarinet Concerto, a very different work from the symphony.

The symphony is divided into eight songs which are poems that Hans Bethge called 'versions' that are based on five Chinese poets from the Tang dynasty. This work shares a lot with Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. It was also written towards the end of the composer's life, and whilst a much smaller orchestra and a single singer are employed, and the work is considerably shorter, the connection with Mahler is immediately apparent. The orchestral palette, as far as instrumental colour and use of the voice, highlights this influence, and these are true orchestral lieder.

Listen — Penderecki: On a River (Symphony No 6 Chinese Songs)
(track 3, 0:00-0:52) ℗ 2019 CD Accord :

There is nothing in this work that would offend a listener of late Romantic music, and one could not get a finer exponent than Stephan Genz, a very accomplished lieder baritone with a most attractive lyric quality to his voice. The work is enhanced by the addition of the ehru soloist Joanna Kravchenko, who provides brief intermezzi in three of the songs.

Listen — Penderecki: The Mysterious Flute (Symphony No 6 Chinese Songs)
(track 1, 4:34-5:22) ℗ 2019 CD Accord :

The songs themselves encompass a range of emotions from calm reflection to homesickness and despair.

Listen — Penderecki: Despair (Symphony No 6 Chinese Songs)
(track 5, 0:00-0:44) ℗ 2019 CD Accord :

This work is as much a song cycle as it is a symphony, but one that I think most listeners will thoroughly enjoy. If I did not know it was Penderecki, I would have thought it would perhaps be an unknown Mahler work or perhaps early Schoenberg.

Listen — Penderecki: Autumn Flute Song (Symphony No 6 Chinese Songs)
(track 8, 0:52-1:38) ℗ 2019 CD Accord :

The other work on this disc is the Clarinet Concerto. It was written in 1963 originally for viola, strings and celeste. This later version for Clarinet (1983/1995) works very well, and it is a very different work from the symphony. Whilst it is much more 'modern' in its sound, it is still a very attractive work. This single movement work is here divided into five tracks reflecting the mood of the various sections.

The first section is meditative and somewhat brooding with a dramatic and cadenza like ending that leads into the second section which is more lively and pyrotechnic with strong driving rhythms and some great use of the percussion.

Listen — Penderecki: Vivace (Clarinet Concerto)
(track 10, 1:46-2:29) ℗ 2019 CD Accord :

Even in the quiet slower sections there is a feeling of slight unease. The third section is rather ominous at the beginning and is slower and calmer in contrast to the rather frenetic second section. However this changes about half way through with an extended cadenza-like passage that leads into the brief dramatic fourth section. For me there is something rather nightmarish about this section with its quick changes of mood and timbre as well as those rather sinister clarinet trills and rapid oscillating passages.

Listen — Penderecki: Vivo (Clarinet Concerto)
(track 12, 0:58-1:40) ℗ 2019 CD Accord :

The last section is a kind of elegiac postscript and the clarinet gradually climbs to end on a held high note.

Listen — Penderecki: Lento (tempo 1) (Clarinet Concerto)
(track 13, 1:01-1:49) ℗ 2019 CD Accord :

This concerto is a great piece, I had not heard it before and the soloist, Andrzej Wojciechowski, was not known to me either, but he has a well-centred sound, an impressive technique and has really 'owned' this work.

The Polish Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Sopot, conducted by Wojciech Rajski, is magnificent. There are some thrilling moments, and not once do I find them lacking. The sound of the recording is very good with a clear and unmuddied sound. I was very pleased that the enclosed booklet was informative, and also listed the whole orchestra, but was a little surprised the disc only comprised some forty-seven minutes, but it was a well-balanced programme and perhaps it would be hard to know what to add. This disc is certainly to be recommended highly.

Copyright © 9 October 2021 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia






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