String Quartets Nos 1-4; Der unterbrochene Gedanke; Clarinet Quartet
Piotr Szymyślik (clarinet); Silesian Quartet
Chandos CHAN 20175 54:25 mins
Though Krzysztof Penderecki is probably best remembered for such large-scale works as his Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshimaand St Luke Passion, there are few better introductions to his stylistic range than his quartets. The works on this superlative new recording of the Complete Quartets date from 1960 to 2016, and some of his finest music is here. As the Silesian Quartet shows in their chronologically presented survey, the earliest music holds up well: the compact First Quartet bursts out of a thicket of sounds, the likes of which had not been heard before, with Penderecki reappraising every part of the instruments for their noise-making potential.
Even after such a concentrated performance, there is no let-up in the Second Quartet, which despite a slight nod towards convention is a work of Penderecki’s high-modernist phase. The players (also required to whistle, which they do splendidly) are exhilarating in this single movement’s vivace sections. Yet the most substantial and rewarding of these masterpieces is the Third Quartet of 2008, written when Penderecki was no longer fighting the past. It is nevertheless a work of distinctive originality, drawing a high level of virtuosity from the Silesians, whose enigmatic performance illuminates the subtitle, ‘Leaves from an Unwritten Diary’.
The Fourth Quartet, a mix of viola recitative and rustic dance, is a slighter piece, as is the unnumbered miniature Der unterbrochene Gedanke. But dating from 1993 and sitting at the heart of this survey, the Clarinet Quartet (featuring a warm-toned Piotr Szymyślik) takes on a few ghosts of Romanticism to haunting effect.