Antoni Wit / Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir

Penderecki: Credo

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Religious music has been a significant part of Penderecki's output from early in his career, and his St. Luke Passion of 1966 was a key work in establishing his international reputation as an iconoclast with an original and arresting musical vision. Since turning his back on the avant-garde in the 1970s he has devoted even more energy to religious music, creating a number of large pieces, some of which are among his most significant works in his mature post-Romantic style. Penderecki's essential perspective -- earnest, dense, and darkly dramatic -- has remained constant throughout his career, though, and is on full display in his 50-minute 1998 setting of the Credo, a part of the Mass most of which is devoted to optimism and affirmation. The composer's setting of the central section asserting belief in the crucifixion and death of Jesus is appropriately grim, but even the more traditionally positive sections sound anguished and angst-ridden, as if every aspect of the composer's faith were very serious business indeed. There are a few moments of brightness, including parts of the first movement and the end of Et in Spiritum Sanctus, but even the concluding Alleluia is almost entirely in a bleak minor mode until the final major cadence. The brief Cantata in honorem Almae Matris, written to honor the Jagellonian University, which Penderecki attended, comes from 1964, the height of his experimental period. Its sinister mutterings aren't out of character with his music of that era, but it hardly sounds celebratory. Led by Antoni Wit, the Warsaw Boys Choir, Warsaw Philharmonic Choir, and Warsaw Philharmonic perform the difficult scores with passion and intensity. Some of the soloists are very fine, and some less so, but all are reasonably effective. The sound is about as clear as could be expected given the textural and harmonic density created by the massed choral and orchestral forces.

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