As one of the leading lights of the avant-garde in the middle of the 20th century, Krzysztof Penderecki became famous for his uncompromising experimental music, most of all for his wrenching Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960). Three of the works on this 2012 Naxos release by Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra date to his early period: Anaklasis, for string orchestra (1960), Fonogrammi, for flute and chamber orchestra (1961), and De natura sonoris I for orchestra (1966). Unusual orchestral sonorities, sharp bursts in high registers, rumbling drones, and cluster-chord textures dominate these pieces. Though some of Penderecki's compositional strategies changed in the Partita, for harpsichord, electric guitar, bass guitar, harp, double bass, and orchestra (1971, revised 1991) and The Awakening of Jacob (1974), these transitional works still emphasize the severe and often abrasive sounds for which he became known. This is why the tonal and much more conventional Horn Concerto, "Winterreise" (2008, revised 2009), comes as the biggest shock of the CD, even more than the challenging works preceding it, because Penderecki abandoned his early style completely by the 1980s, and adopted a more accessible style, which in this work is quite similar to Shostakovich. Because of this dramatic change of methods, Penderecki's music is the object of divided opinion and debate. Even so, this disc offers clear and compelling performances of all six pieces, and Naxos provides exceptional sound to give the listener every advantage in approaching both early and late Penderecki.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson