Penderecki: A Polish Requiem; The Dream of Jacob

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COMPOSERS: Penderecki
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: A Polish Requiem; The Dream of Jacob
PERFORMER: Jadwiga Gadulanka (soprano), Jadwiga Rappé (mezzo-soprano), Zachos Terzakis (tenor), Piotr Nowacki (bass); Royal Stockholm PO & Chorus/Krzysztof Penderecki
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9459/60
The Dream of Jacob, this disc’s nine-minute filler, was written in 1974, just before the works which established Penderecki’s more tonal and melodic idiom. Its mysterious ocarinas, moaning glissandi and splendidly cacophonous climax make it typical of the composer’s earlier, avant-garde phase.

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A Polish Requiem itself – assembled mainly between 1980 and 1984 – already, however, goes beyond what Wolfram Schwinger here calls the ‘new Penderecki’ to attempt more of a synthesis. This setting for soloists, large chorus and orchestra incorporates several Polish themes; the hymn ‘Swiety Boze’ is added to the ‘Recordare’, composed for the beatification of Father Maximilian Kolbe, who died at Auschwitz. But such sections struggle to survive on the mundane material which too frequently mars the whole work; the solo vocal writing, in particular, is often distressingly banal, at least in such hectoring performances.

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Taken together, the ‘Ingemisco’ and ‘Lacrimosa’, on the other hand – like the curiously ambiguous Sanctus (completed only in 1993) – offer a more compelling combination of the drama and contrast typical of the avant-garde Penderecki at his best and a more imaginative approach to a melodic tonality. But over ninety minutes, it’s hard to sustain such faith in this composer’s ability to recreate his old magic with more familiar resources. Keith Potter