Krzysztof Penderecki, of modernity in the mysticism

Photo: Janek Skarzynski Agence France-Presse
At the dawn of his 85 years, Krzysztof Penderecki undertook, with the Choir and Orchestra philharmonic of Warsaw, a recording anthology of his works for Warner Classics.

Friday, July 20, 2018 will be a major landmark in the history of the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, called upon to open the Salzburg Festival with The Passion according to st. Luke the composer Krzysztof Penderecki, honoured by the festival for its 85 years.


At the dawn of his 85 years, Krzysztof Penderecki undertook, with the Choir and the Orchestra philharmonic of Warsaw, a recording anthology of his works for Warner Classics. The first two volumes just published sheds light on the composer. A path less radical than that of Arvo Pärt, but ranging, philosophically, in the same direction.


The radicalism with piety


I remember as if it was yesterday my first contact with the music of Penderecki : Threnos in memory of the victims of Hiroshima. The title fascinated me, and the lp for EMI, was published while I was a teenager, had been distinguished by the specialized press. Not being the sort to give up easily, I was a stubborn look in his rough edges and eerie, which made of it the genius. The frightening image of the cover of the box set of the opera the devils of Loudun, I was renting then to the library, without further unravel the mysteries, finally, however, convince me that the composer had a report quite remarkable with death.


Here I am, 40 years later, to present the concert of the OSM to Salzburg and to comment on the volume 1 of the new anthology Penderecki Warner Classics. The Passion according to st. Luke on one side, Dies Illa for three soloists, chorus, and orchestra (2014) from the other. As if nothing had changed…


And yet, everything has changed. 1960s until the late 1970s, Penderecki is a composer in search of the unheard and of the radical, a kind of Ligeti Polish. De Natura Sonoris I, which accompanied Threnos in the disc cited above, shows it clearly. Yet, as of this period as ” radical “, the religious inspiration is already very present. Moreover, The Passion according to st. Luke dates from 1966, the time, almost, of the Devils of Loudun (1969).


From the 1980s, Penderecki’s not going to feel compelled to be modern ; it’s going to be himself without impoverishing his music, but making it more accessible.


In my eyes, one of the masterpieces of Penderecki is his 7th Symphony,” The 7 gates of Jerusalem “, created by Lorin Maazel and the Orchestra symphony of the bavarian Radio in Jerusalem in 1996. Now that Kent Nagano has become an advocate of the cause pendereckienne, also sincerely activist, as was Charles Dutoit, it would be very interesting to be able to hear this symphony in Montreal during the next season.


Penderecki through the voice

The religious music is the most direct path to capture the evolution of the course and the language of Krzysztof Penderecki. From this point of view, the volume 2 of the anthology ” Penderecki Conducts Penderecki “, that the composer recorded in Warsaw, for Warner, is very instructive.


Under the title Choral Music, the double album includes choral works a cappella sweeping all times creative. The course of the first of the two CDS being more or less chronological, a jump from the beach 1 (Stabat Mater, 1962), to the beach 5 (Veni Creator spiritus, 1987), and then to the beach 8 (Quid Sum Miser, 2014) provides insight into the changes in the harmonic context, the end of the experiment, the journey to the sound and a kind of “post-Poulenc and the post-Britten” to which tend finally, several contemporary composers.


The auditor noted that the first four tracks are the four choruses a cappella for The Passion according to st. Luke. Moreover, the introduction of choirs a cappella in large symphonic works or choirs to large deployment is a process used by Penderecki in several compositions (including The ” 7 gates of Jerusalem), the composer forcing in the listener a moment of reflection.

Volume 1 of Penderecki Conducts Penderecki, which mobilizes choir, and orchestra, includes only a drive and shows us the Dies Illa 2014, composition is brilliant and fascinating of a little over 20 minutes. If I made reference to the 7th Symphony, it is also because the Dies Illa, from the Liber Scriptus, adopts some effects and processes sound.


The disc is completed by two Hymns of 1987, and the four Psalms of David in 1958.


It is very interesting to see that Penderecki does in no way his works the most arid and demanding of its far past experimental, that will delight its listeners today. Psalm XXVIII shows that Penderecki the modernist was damn good at it, and also, in Psalm XXX is, however, an almost annoying decal of Stravinsky’s Noces !


Impossible to conclude this small presentation without mention of the collection record is very broad and exemplary, devoted to Penderecki for Naxos and conductor Antoni Wit. It is to Wit that will turn music lovers who want to get acquainted with The Passion according to st. Luke that the OSM will present to Salzburg this summer.