Krzysztof Penderecki
Naxos 8.572697

Warsaw Boys Choir
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra
Antoni Wit
Total Playing Time: 1:05:11
Kryzsztof Penderecki was born in Dubica on 23 November 1933, studying at the Krakow Academy of Music and then at the Jagiellonian University, before establishing himself at the Warsaw Autumn Festivals of 1959 and 1960. He soon became a part of the European avant-garde, achieving notable success with Threnody [Naxos 8.554491] in which he imparted an intensely expressive vein to what was his then ‘sonorist’ musical language. St Luke Passion [8.557149] proved how successful this idiom could be in sacred music and he has continued to be inspired by timeless religious themes, as can be witnessed by his cantatas, oratorios and operas. During the mid-1970s, however, such an involvement with tradition became deeper—Penderecki entering into dialogue with music he ‘rediscovered’ for himself, as he internalised the post-Romantic tradition and then combined it with the technical hallmarks of his earlier music. Works written in this ‘new’ style include the Concertos for Violin [8.555265], Cello and Viola [both 8.572211], the Second Symphony [8.554492], the opera Paradise Lost, the Te Deum [8.557980] and A Polish Requiem [8.557386-87]. Further formal as well as stylistic investigation led to operas such as the expressionist Black Mask and the post-modern Ubu Rex, as well as the oratorios Seven Gates of Jerusalem [8.557766] and Credo [8.572032], all of which are informed by an acute expression along with a refined array of technical means.
The two works on this recording are separated by 35 years, during which time Penderecki made a decisive break with the post-war European avant-garde and went through what was described as his ‘neo-Romantic’ phase, before gradually re-assimilating elements of his earlier output into a freely pluralist musical language.
Written during 1973–74, the Magnificat emerged at a notable stylistic crossroads. Having recently completed his First Symphony [8.554567], the composer was disinclined to continue further along this path, speculating that he might now turn to the electronic studio for his way forward. In the event, a commission from Austrian Radio for a work to mark the 1200th anniversary of the founding of Salzburg Cathedral led him to add to his series of large-scale sacred works. Scored for bass soloist, vocal ensemble of seven male voices, two mixed choruses (each with a minimum of 24 voices), children’s choir and orchestra, the work was premiered at Salzburg Cathedral on 17 August 1974—with bass Peter Lagger, Schola Cantorum Stuttgart, Vienna Youth Singers, and the Chorus and Symphony of Orchestra of Austrian Radio conducted by the composer. Compared to that of St Luke Passion a decade before, the Magnificat met with a positive though low-key reception: its pivotal nature within Penderecki’s output being acknowledged from the outset.
The work consists of six individual sections such as fall into four larger movements. The first section, starting at ‘Magnificat anima mea’, begins on a sustained note that is extended into a cluster, the chorus solemnly intoning those initial words as the texture becomes denser and more intricate. It presently subsides to leave a repeated rhythm on timpani over a sustained note in the lowest register. The second section is a fugue which returns to the denser textures of hitherto, the voices greatly sub-divided and the harmony expanded with recourse to such as glissando. Interjections from brass and strings continue against the resumption of the choral writing, out of which the vocal ensemble is increasingly prominent. A climax of contrapuntal intricacy tails off to leave individual voices musing on isolated words and phrases at the end.
The third section, starting at ‘Et misericordia’, opens with spectral sounds on high woodwind and strings, the chorus gradually entering with soft chordal clusters. These, in turn, make way for the fourth section, starting at ‘Fecit potentiam’, with solo bass declaiming the text against a somnolent backdrop of lower strings—growing in rhetorical fervour as it reaches a climax before the soloist continues unaccompanied without any lessening of the emotional intensity.
The fifth section is a passacaglia which commences with the strings recalling the timpani’s repeated rhythm at a variety of pitches, the chorus adding an initially discreet counterpoint before the rhythmic motion gains in intensity towards the first climax in which the text is fiercely declaimed before dispersing in a welter of glissandos. The music then heads into a passage where the text is alternately spoken and whispered (and which most clearly recalls the composer’s earlier choral writing), the heightened declamation continuing against the pervasive repeated rhythm before the music quietens going into the sepulchral final bars. The sixth section, starting at ‘Sicut locutus est’, brings the culmination in every respect. It starts with the chorus transforming the text into a widely spaced yet hushed dissonance, at length dying down to leave the vocal ensemble and various instruments in animated exchanges that gradually draw upon all of the forces for an impassioned statement which is curtailed to leave solo voices sounding plaintively over fragmentary instrumental gestures. These build towards a powerful climax, capped by the chorus in an intensive outpouring that pivots between tonal stability and disintegration. Brass then come to the fore in what is the work’s most sustained culmination, ultimately curtailed by brutal interjections from strings and timpani—the chorus then retreating as the music reaches its conclusion in a mood of anxious and equivocal calm.
Commissioning by Łodź to mark the 65th anniversary of the liquidation of the city’s Jewish ghetto, Kadisz (Kaddish) was premiered in Łodź on 29 August 2009 and conducted by the composer. “To the Abrahms of Łódź who wanted to live. The the Poles that saved Jews.”
Although playing for barely 20 minutes, this piece is among the most distinctive among Penderecki’s later choral works in the stark contrasts between its individual sections.
The first section, setting lines by a teenage inhabitant of the ghetto, opens with the soprano urgently declaiming the text firstly against a remorseless rhythm on percussion, before being accompanied by plangent comments on woodwind. The music then opens out into a plaintive ‘aria’ where the interplay of woodwind and strings brings with it overtly Baroque resonances. Latterly the expression becomes more volatile, before heading to a decisive close. The second section, setting lines from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, commences with its text rhetorically declaimed by speaker—orchestra and chorus responding before a limpid close on woodwind. The third section, setting lines from the Book of Daniel, unfolds on unaccompanied chorus and with the supplicatory nature of the text amply conveyed. The fourth section, setting lines from the Kadisz Jatom (the ‘Orphan’s Kaddish’), starts with a mellifluous declamation by the tenor (who assumes the role of cantor)—gaining rapidly in fervency and set in relief by terse interjections from the chorus (which assumes the role of congregation). The orchestral contribution is largely restricted to a sombre harmonic underpinning, and its role remains all but static as the tenor continues his declamation of the text right through to the closing bars, when the chorus briefly joins him in the musical foreground for a series of fatalistic Amens.

Richard Whitehouse


Magnificat (Bible - New Testament) 1973-74
Gierlach, Wojtek, bass
Burzynski, Jakub, tenor
Cyciura, Mariusz, tenor
Warmijak, Tomasz, tenor
Gunerka, Sebastian, bass
Wawreczko, Roman, bassWota,
Marek, bass
Zywczok, Przemyslaw, bass
  1. Magnificat anima mea 4:59
  2. Fuga. Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae 7:43
  3. Et misericordia eius 2:58
  4. Fecit Potentiam 4:36
  5. Passacaglia. Deposuit potentes de sede 9:14
  6. Sicut locutus est 15:16
Kadisz (Bible - Old Testament / Cytryn, Abraham) 2009
Pasichnyk, Olga, soprano
Mizrahi, Alberto, tenor
Olbrychski, Daniel, narrator
  7. I. Szla smierc od mogily do mogily: Tempo di marcia funebre 7:31
  8. II. Lezy na ziemi po ulicach dziecie, i starzec: Grave, senza misura 2:50
  9. III. Prosimy cie, abys nas na wieki nie wydawal: Molto tranquillo 3:14
10. IV. Jitgadal wejitkadasz szmeh raba. Amen: Senza misura 6:50