Penderecki: Polish Requiem

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COMPOSERS: Penderecki
WORKS: Polish Requiem
PERFORMER: Izabela Kosinska (soprano), Jadwiga Rappé (mezzo-soprano), Ryszard Minkiewicz (tenor), Piotr Nowacki (bass); Warsaw National PO & Choir/Antoni Wit
CATALOGUE NO: 8.557386-87
Penderecki’s Requiem of 1980-84 is Polish in that several sections of it were written in honour of national heroes and martyrs, and also in its quotations of an old Polish hymn. In its early stages, it seems fatally dour and thin, relying heavily on a mere handful of textures and gestures: long, jagged single lines, spare two-part counterpoint, fast irregular downward phrases like flashes of lightning, downward chromatic scales like cries of pain. Later, though, it’s more varied, with a brighter-coloured Sanctus, added in 1993, an unaccompanied Agnus Dei, and some judicious use of the ‘early Penderecki’ repertoire of slides, clusters and unusual percussion effects. And the order of movements and the texts are tweaked to create an unexpectedly optimistic ending. Naxos’s all-Polish recording has a generally reliable solo team, including a contralto of great range and force in Jadwiga Rappé, an occasionally tentative chorus, and a well schooled orchestra. The recording leaves the chorus rather in the distance, but goes close on the soloists, obscuring some orchestral detail. Penderecki’s own second recording, made in Stockholm in 1995, has a more variable solo group (though with Rappé again) and a chorus which again sounds slightly under-powered, but a better recorded balance overall. And, crucially, the composer conducts with an urgency and fervour which in places leaves Antoni Wit sounding as if he’s just going through the motions. At bargain price, Wit’s Naxos set is an acceptable representation of the score; but it’s Penderecki’s performance that’s more likely to convince you of the merits of this powerful if flawed work. Anthony Burton