Penderecki: Te Deum; Hymn to St Daniel; Polymorphia

COMPOSERS: Penderecki
ALBUM TITLE: Penderecki
WORKS: Te Deum; Hymn to St Daniel; Polymorphia
PERFORMER: Izabela K?osi´nska (soprano), Agnieszka Rehlis (mezzo-soprano), Adam Zdunikowski (tenor), Piotr Nowacki (bass); Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra/Antoni Wit
Penderecki’s 1979/80 Te Deum is a setting of the great Christian hymn of praise, and marked the election of a Polish compatriot as Pope. But it’s a surprisingly un-celebratory piece, incorporating a solemn Polish hymn asking God to protect the Fatherland, and couched – apart from a few flashes of the younger Penderecki’s vivid aural imagination – in the kind of freely chromatic counterpoint that you call ‘searching’ if you respond to it, and ‘meandering’ if you don’t.


Antoni Wit’s interpretation mostly sticks close to the composer’s own 1983 recording (now deleted by EMI but still available on the Polish Dux label) in its tempos and sometimes exaggerated articulation. But it’s a little more urgent in and around the Polish hymn; and the soloists achieve clearer definition of pitch and rhythm than Penderecki’s team. Fine contributions from chorus and orchestra, and a good recording, help to make the best possible case for this unexpectedly sombre work.

The Te Deum is appropriately complemented by a tender neo-baroque Chaconne for strings written in 2005 in memory of Pope John Paul II. And the disc also contains confident accounts of the 1961 Polymorphia, which extracts an extraordinary range of sound-effects from 48 strings, and the 1997 Hymn to St Daniel, a setting of a Church Slavonic text of Brucknerian simplicity and grandeur – two pieces marking the extremes of Penderecki’s long and puzzling journey from revolutionary to reactionary.


Anthony Burton