Penderecki: Seven Gates of Jerusalem

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COMPOSERS: Penderecki
WORKS: Seven Gates of Jerusalem
PERFORMER: Bozena Harasimowicz-Haas, Izabella Klosin´ska (soprano), Jadwiga Rappé (alto), Wieslaw Ochman (tenor), Romuald Tesarowicz (bass); Warsaw National PO & Choir/Kazimierz Kord
It’s hard to believe, listening to the Romantic religiosity of this music, that Penderecki was once an enfant terrible of modern music, a pioneer of the unearthly ‘sound-music’ that inspired many a sci-fi movie soundtrack. Here and there, in this new piece, you catch something of the dense icy chords and swooping clusters of his early works. But these are passing moments in a musical texture rooted somewhere between the fervent Russian-orthodox Romanticism of Rachmaninoff’s Vespers and the agonised chromaticism of Liszt’s St Francis – with a dash of Verdi’s Requiem thrown in. Add to that the bizarre techno thuddings of the tubaphone – Penderecki’s own invention – and you have a stylistic mish-mash in constant danger of falling apart. This performance succeeds in holding it together, and convinces you of the music’s sincerity, if not its quality. The soloists project the fervency of the Biblical texts without exaggerating them, the colossal orchestral forces are admirably balanced, and every detail tells. But in the end, it’s not Penderecki’s lumbering musical symbolism and self-consciously ‘awesome’ major chords that stay in the mind, but the spine-tingling narration in the sixth movement of Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones restored to life by the breath of the Almighty. Ivan Hewett