Krzysztof Penderecki

Penderecki: Symphony No. 4 "Adagio"

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Presented as part of a special edition series by Dux, this 2010 recording of Krzysztof Penderecki's Symphony No. 4, "Adagio" (1989), is performed by the Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra and conducted by the composer. Apart from his occasional use of harsh dissonances and dark sonorities, Penderecki's late style is practically post-Romantic in character: his music often seems to be a kind of throwback to another era, employing familiar devices of orchestration and dramatic effects that hearken back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While his conservative approach has not been without controversy -- the composer of the Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960) abandoned the avant-garde long ago -- his ideas are still interesting and his ability to write for an orchestra is still strong. However, a clue to what the Symphony No. 4 suffers from is found in its title, "Adagio," which Penderecki chose to indicate the overall pacing of the work. Like many modern composers, it seems Penderecki lost the ability to write truly fast music, for this work plods through its five movements with a doom-laden tread, and the few changes of tempo are not especially fast or exciting, but more like a steady walk, with periodic changes of moderate tempo. Add to this problem some exposed part writing that could benefit from contrapuntal or harmonic fleshing out, and it becomes apparent that this is a discursive piece that has nowhere important to take the listener nor any urgent message. Because it is by Penderecki, the Symphony No. 4 must be taken seriously, but it may not satisfy. The playing by the student orchestra is competent and ostensibly what is demanded, but the sound of the ensemble seems less than vibrant or present in the live recording.

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