by Walter Simmons
PANUFNIK HOMAGE TO POLISH MUSIC • Mariusz Smolij, cond; Polish Ch O; Hanna Turonek (fl); Igor Cechoco (tpt) • NAXOS 8.570032 (57:58)
Hommage à Chopin. Old Polish Suite. Jagiellonian Triptych. Concerto in Modo Antico. Old Polish Music—Divertimento after Janiewicz
Although he lived in England for the second half of his life, Sir Andrzej Panufnik always retained a strong attachment to his native Poland and its cultural heritage. During the years following World War II he endured the oppressive dogma of Socialist Realism, often finding himself accused of “formalist” deviations from the doctrine. During those years, before he fled to England, he devoted much of his creative energy to creating performing versions of Polish music dating from previous centuries, much of which survived only as fragments. His intention was largely archaeological, and, for the most part, he refrained from imposing his own creative identity on the material. After his escape to England in 1954, he occasionally returned to this effort. The recent Naxos release at hand documents this aspect of Panufnik’s output.
The one piece included here that does not exactly fit among the rest is the Hommage à Chopin in five short movements for flute and strings. Some listeners may find this one piece worth the rest of the disc. It began in 1949 as a group of vocalises for soprano and piano, based on folk melodies from the region where Chopin was born (the music bears no resemblance to Chopin whatsoever), and was re-scored for flute and strings in 1966. Its greatest point of interest for Panufnik aficionados is in presenting the composer’s distinctive and highly personal manner in its barest essentials and simplest of textures, so that its unique harmonic language is utterly clear. The three slow movements are exquisitely lovely, while the two faster ones provide welcome contrast.
Old Polish Music: Divertimento after Janiewicz is a three-movement suite for strings dating from 1947. The thematic material is derived from trios by the 18th-century composer Feliks Janiewicz. Retaining the 18th-century manner, the piece holds little appeal for me.
Much more gratifying is the Old Polish Suite, five movements for strings based on fragments from the 16th and 17th centuries. A product of the early 1950s, this is very much along the lines of Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite and so many other such pieces by Holst, Finzi, Rubbra, Rosner et al. It is a genre of which listeners never seem to tire. Panufnik’s entry stands among the best of them, the dance-like movements revealing attractive rhythmic felicities, while the slow ones display a dignified beauty.
Dating from the same period is the Concerto in Modo Antico, scored for trumpet and chamber orchestra. Comprising seven sections, it is more primitive musically than the Old Polish Suite, as its source material dates from as far back as the 14th century. With its archaic material and a leading role for the trumpet, some moments call Alan Hovhaness to mind.
In 1966 Panufnik returned to musical archaeology in fashioning the Jagiellonian Triptych for string orchestra. The work draws on material similar to that used in the Old Polish Suite, which it greatly resembles, but in this shorter, later work the composer allows himself some anachronistic instrumental usages. The second of the three movements is particularly beautiful.
In conclusion I want to emphasize that except for the Hommage à Chopin, this music constitutes arrangements that retain their own historical stylistic identities, and are not original compositions. I suspect that the market for this disc will not be quite the same as that for other Panufnik recordings. Polish-born conductor Mariusz Smolif is evidently pursuing an active career in the United States now. He leads the Polish Chamber Orchestra in performances of striking sensitivity and precision. My attention was drawn repeatedly to their delicacy and unusually refined phrasing.