Panufnik: ‘Messages’ String Quartet No. 1; Messages’ String Quartet No. 2; Messages’ String Quartet No. 3; Song to the Virgin Mary; String Sextet (Trains of Thought)

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COMPOSERS: Panufnik
LABELS: Conifer Classics
WORKS: ‘Messages’ String Quartet No. 1; Messages’ String Quartet No. 2; Messages’ String Quartet No. 3; Song to the Virgin Mary; String Sextet (Trains of Thought)
PERFORMER: Chilingirian String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CDCF 218 DDD
Sir Andrzej Panufnik (1914-91) is best known for his orchestral music, particularly his 10 symphonies. He lived in Britain from 1954, and was principal conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, having previously worked with the Kraków and Warsaw Philharmonics. As his career developed, he devoted himself increasingly to composition.

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This disc contains his three string quartets, along with two sextets, one of which is an arrangement of a vocal piece. These chamber works offer a distillation of Panufnik’s methods, and those who are familiar with his orchestral works may be surprised by the frequently spare textures. But the tendency to move from introspection to affirmation brings a full range of emotion and sound, a striking example being the Postlude of the First Quartet (1976), with its inexorable sense of growth.

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The recording, like the music, is clean and precise: the Chilingirian Quartet’s sensitive pianissimo playing is captured perfectly, while the climaxes are rich in tone. In his excellent notes, Bernard Jacobson refers to Panufnik’s search for ‘human emotion and cosmic mystery’, and this personal, intimate music is well served in these performances. As an introduction to the art of this underrated composer, I recommend this disc, and especially the sextet arrangement of the moving Song to the Virgin Mary. Terry Barfoot