Panufnik: Sinfonia concertante for flute, harp and strings; Concertino for timpani, percussion and strings; Harmony

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Panufnik
LABELS: Conifer
WORKS: Sinfonia concertante for flute, harp and strings; Concertino for timpani, percussion and strings; Harmony
PERFORMER: London Musici/Mark Stephenson
CATALOGUE NO: CDCF 217 DDD
Listening to Panufnik’s music is a bit like holding a crystal up to the light and slowly rotating it. It’s made up of tiny musical cells which are announced like an incantation at the beginning, and then teased out horizontally into melodies and vertically into chords, in constantly varying combinations. This utter single-mindedness gives the music an austere, aloof quality which can seem merely cold; even the intense moments have a wintry feel to them.

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Conveying this kind of restrained, inward intensity is a tricky problem. Too much restraint and the music sounds fussy and grey; too much intensity and it sounds precious. Either way, the effect is one of coldness, so it’s hard to tell into which trap a performance is falling. It’s a problem I was faced with constantly when listening to this disc.

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In a way, the performances are too perfect for their own good. They are beautifully shaped and have clearly been rehearsed with endless care. There is simply nowhere for a fudged entry or sourly tuned note to hide, especially in a recording as unforgivingly close and dry as this. But to galvanise this music into life, performers need to go beyond perfection, they need to project the music in an extrovert way that might seem at odds with the music on the page – as Panufnik himself did in his 1973 recording. Ivan Hewett