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ALBUM TITLE: Panufnik: Symphony No. 5
WORKS: Symphony No. 5 (Sinfonia di Sfere); Bassoon Concerto; Love Song; Landscape
PERFORMER: Sarah van der Kemp (mezzo soprano), Michael von Schönermark (basson); Konzerthausorchester Berlin; Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Lucasz Borowicz
CATALOGUE NO: 777 686-2


The most radical of all Panufnik’s ten Symphonies, and maybe also the masterpiece among them, the Fifth is the last to be recorded in ukasz Borowicz’s invaluable series of the composer’s orchestral works on the CPO label. Its modernist gestures are not all that easily approached, but by saving this work up for last, Borowicz seems able to give it exactly the performance it needs but has so far lacked on disc, steering his Konzerthausorchester Berlin through its craggy textures with impressive confidence while allowing the music freedom to breathe. Named the Sinfonia di Sfere (Symphony of the Spheres) and premiered in 1976, the score is one of many Panufnik works taking their inspiration from geometrical structures, and communicates its design compellingly. The elegiac movements make a powerful impact, but it is the aggressively exploding, brittle timbres that give the piece its character.

Nothing else on the disc quite matches this outstanding achievement, but the only let-down is the performance of Love Song, a haunting setting of Philip Sidney, in which the mezzo Sarah van der Kemp sounds strained at the top of her range (and slightly less than idiomatic in her delivery of the English text). Borowicz certainly draws an evocative performance of Landscape, which echoes the radical string-writing techniques of the early Lullaby and fuses memories of Poland with actual impressions of Suffolk. Michael von Schönermark’s strongly characterised performance in the Bassoon Concerto (1985) comes across vividly thanks to excellent engineering.

Yet turning to Panufnik’s own version of the Bassoon Concerto, with the original soloist Robert Thompson in a 1987 BBC recording (produced by Roger Wright) and issued in celebration of the composer’s centenary, more layers of meaning emerge. Written in response to the murder of Father Jerzy Popieuszko by communist Poland’s secret police, the work has a deep humanity, and the soloist’s singing lines carry greater conviction here. The idealism of the Sinfonia di Speranza (Symphony of Hope) could also hardly be more authentically conveyed, and this recording’s sense of history is enhanced by the composer’s spoken introductions.


John Allison