Andrzej Panufnik – Nocturne

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COMPOSERS: Panufnik
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: Tragic Overture; Nocturne; Heroic Overture; Katy´n Epitaph; A Procession for Peace; Harmony
PERFORMER: Polish Radio SO/Lukasz Borowicz
CATALOGUE NO: CPO 777 497-2

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Gaining renewed topicality – not to mention a flurry of performances – in the wake of the recent Polish air tragedy, Andrzej Panufnik’s Katy´n Epitaph makes a profound impression at the centre of this welcome new recording.

A threnody constructed from very economical material, it bears witness to the composer’s distinctive voice (by the time it was written in 1967, he was very much an artist in exile looking back at Poland), and along with several other pieces here provides an ideal introduction to his work.

Despite spending the most important portion of his career in Britain, Panufnik (1914-1991) has been under-represented in our concert halls of late; in parallel with his upcoming centenary, CPO’s projected Panufnik Edition will surely stimulate renewed interest.

Eschewing the bigger symphonies and concertos, the first volume gathers together several significant middle-sized works. They include such late scores as the direct-speaking Procession for Peace and the lyrical Harmony, contrasting with the tranquil yet bleak Nocturne, written soon after the Second World War and a quietly bold work that is absolutely assured in its structure and forward-looking harmonic language.

All Panufnik’s manuscripts were lost in the ashes of Warsaw, but he reconstructed his Tragic Overture, and its biting rhythms and bittersweet unease makes for an arresting start to the disc. Built entirely from a concise melodic cell, the Tragic Overture shows what Panufnik absorbed from his pre-war visit to Vienna and his analysis of the music of Webern, with whom he had considered studying.

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Nothing of its rigour is lost on the impressive young conductor, Lukasz Borowicz, who maintains taut control of the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Better notes in future volumes would help to make this an invaluable series. John Allison