Penderecki: Clarinet Quartet; String Trio; Per Slava; Violin Sonata; Cadenza; Prelude for solo clarinet

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COMPOSERS: Penderecki
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Clarinet Quartet; String Trio; Per Slava; Violin Sonata; Cadenza; Prelude for solo clarinet
PERFORMER: Eduard Brunner (clarinet), Patrick O’Byrne (piano); German String Trio
CATALOGUE NO: 999 730-2
It’s hard to mistake Penderecki’s music, especially the music he has composed since he turned his back on the experimental modernism of the Sixties. Elegiac, frantic and corrosively violent by turns, brooding obsessively on tiny clusters of dissonant intervals, it inhabits a world where angst is the norm – it’s tempting to be really flippant (emotional defensiveness, perhaps) and sum it up as Schnittke without the jokes. Exploring inner darkness is a perfectly valid artistic mission, of course – there are too few composers today who are prepared to look hard into the void. But while Penderecki’s expressive directness is impressive, the musical craft strong and idiosyncratic, for me the effect becomes increasingly claustrophobic. With each slow, tortured instrumental monologue the feeling of déjà entendu grows. Is Penderecki moving forward, or merely crossing and recrossing old ground? Intriguingly, the early Sonata for Violin and Piano (1953) speaks in strikingly similar emotional terms to those of the late Eighties/early Nineties works with which it’s coupled – at least in its astringent first movement. Still, the performances radiate conviction, even in the quietest, most inward-looking passages, and the recordings – if a little studio-ish in tone – bring one right into the music without pushing the ear too close to the instruments. Stephen Johnson

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