Panufnik: Cello Concerto

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COMPOSERS: Panufnik
LABELS: NMC
WORKS: Cello Concerto
PERFORMER: Mstislav Rostropovich (cello); LSO/Hugh Wolff
CATALOGUE NO: D010S DDD
The Cello Concerto was the Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik’s last work, completed just months before his death in 1991 and premiered last June by Rostropovich and the London Symphony Orchestra (who had commissioned the piece). To describe Panufnik as a minimalist would be highly misleading, for he doesn’t browbeat with honeyed and vacuous repetition; rather, his music is characterised by an austere economy of means, often developed from a small cell of notes or with a structure based round simple geometric patterns.

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The Cello Concerto is no exception; palindromically figured round the mandorla (the almond shape formed between overlapping circles common in medieval art), and scored for a small orchestra, its two contrasting movements (a contemplative Adagio and percussive, dance-like Vivace) run to only 19 minutes. Far from being dusty or difficult, though, Panufnik’s self-constraint affords a heightened lyrical and dramatic power Rostropovich’s playing is typically impassioned, often in taut dialogue with the concertante instruments of the LSO (in this intimacy reminiscent of Maxwell Davies’s Strathclyde Concertos for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra) and the whole is precisely conducted by Hugh Wolff.

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Born in Warsaw in 1914, Panufnik lived through the Nazi and Soviet invasions of his country before coming to Britain in 1954, and there is a searing sense of witness to this impressive and moving piece. William Humphreys-Jones