Szymon Kawalla

Penderecki: Threnody; Viola Concerto; Van de Vate: Chernobyl; Violin Concerto No. 1

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Penderecki's St. Luke's Passion (1965-1967) closely follows the baroque passion form of J.S. Bach. Scored for three solo voices, speaking voice, boys choir, three mixed choirs, and symphony orchestra, it is emotionally immediate, earthly, direct, and yet cosmic and lyrical. Originally intended to translate Paul Klee's and Yves Klein's visual ideas into music, Dimensions of Time and Silence (1960) is for 40-voice mixed choir, percussion, and strings, and features wonderful combinations of massed choral phonemics and percussive sounds. The vocal text was first based on the magic square/palindrome "sator Arepo tenet opera rotas" (i.e., the sower Arepo works with the help of a wheel), an idea later dropped in favor of structurally serialized vowels and consonants. Polymorphy (1961) is a nine-minute composition for 48-piece string ensemble. An early study in sonic timbres, the first and last parts feature continuous developments, while percussive sounds punctuate the middle. The last minute is filled with chopping and stabbing bow attacks that gradually accumulate in all registers, before a full C major chord suddenly appears at the end. Psalms of David (1958) is a cycle for mixed choir and percussion, employing excerpts from four psalms sung in Polish. This lovely composition combines traditional principles with serialistic pointillism and sound color ideas, anticipating practices explored later in the composer's orchestral works. String Quartet No. 1 (1960) utilizes both traditional and new techniques invented by the composer; most of the score is written in pitch ranges rather than specific pitches. Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1959-1961), a monumental and moving composition for 52 strings, is perhaps Penderecki's best-known work. The composer states that "the problem of the great Apocalypse (Auschwitz), that great war crime, has undoubtedly been in my subconscious mind since the war when, as a child, I saw the destruction of the ghetto in my small native town of Debiça."

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