G—recki, Szymanowski, Bacewicz, Szamotul, Penderecki

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bacewicz,Gorecki,Penderecki,Szamotul,Szymanowski
LABELS: United
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Polska! a Celebration of Polish Music
WORKS: Totus tuus; Six Kurpian Songs; String Quartet No. 3; Seven Polish Hymns; Agnus Dei
PERFORMER: BBC Singers/Bo Holten; Penderecki String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 88021 CD DDD
The BBC’s recent Polska! season did sterling work in bringing unknown Polish works to the attention of a wider public; this disc continues the process. There’s more to Górecki than the Third Symphony; and happily some of it feels rather less vapid. Totus tuus is a lovely ten-minute, Orthodox-tinged piece written for Pope John Paul’s Polish visit of 1987 and ideally suited to the BBC Singers, who make a rare sortie here onto disc. Shifting dynamics and inner balances are handled more subtly than on the obvious Argo rival, whose Czech forces audibly overstretch the work.

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Szymanowski’s charming Kurpian folksongs call for a Poulenc-like sparkle and wit: despite a Slav-style tenor’s efforts, the idiom is lacking here. The readings are lugubrious, there is more than a hint of the old BBC wobble, and words get smudged. But seven 16th-century, madrigal-like sacred miniatures by Waclaw z Szamotul are delightfully managed, with the Polish words crystal clear. Penderecki’s gentle concluding funeral tribute to Cardinal Wyszinski, Agnus Dei, neatly updates the disc.

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Star turn is the folk-imbued Third Quartet of Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-69). Somewhere between Ravel and the still-neglected quartets of our own Elizabeth Maconchy, this rhythmically charged work is given a beautifully honed recording by the Penderecki Quartet, less gritty than the Wilanow’s on Olympia. An imaginative record, worth considering. Roderic Dunnett