Penderecki: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1: Symphony No. 3; Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima; De natura sonoris II; Fluorescences

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COMPOSERS: Penderecki
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Orchestral Works, Vol. 1: Symphony No. 3; Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima; De natura sonoris II; Fluorescences
PERFORMER: Polish National RSO/Antoni Wit
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554491
Penderecki’s stylistic path must be one of the most curious among all 20th-century composers. Coming to prominence at the beginning of the Sixties with the Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (the dedication, incidentally, was a later addition), for the next 15 years he produced pieces in which new sounds were explored with all the rigour and commitment of a fully paid-up member of the avant-garde. Then around the mid-Seventies he became a neo-Romantic, writing in traditional forms and a nothing if not traditional manner. Latterly he has attempted something of a synthesis of the two approaches. Whereas his early works have been dubbed ‘sonorist’ the recent ones aim at ‘claritas’.

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The Third Symphony (1988-95) is among them, but what is most clear from it is how much more vivid and rewarding are the works that explored this language first and, one would have thought, fully, in the Thirties and Forties – such as those of Bartók and Shostakovich. There is nothing symphonic about the piece except its title, and its ideas are commonplace. At least the earlier modernist pieces – the dense, tense Threnody, the atmospheric if unfocused Fluorescences and the simplistic De natura sonoris II offer new aural experiences, however evanescent.

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They are given strong performances, though, with the detail of this difficult music well observed, though the recording’s limited textural definition and flat perspectives do it no favours. George Hall