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PETER DALE explores the orchestral music of Penderecki -
a composer who lit a beacon for Polish music


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The Third Symphony is Penderecki's finest. It is the least vulnerable to the criticism that has dogged him, to the effect that, though undeniably brilliant on the surface, he lacks depth. As symphonies go - and, of course, almost anything does go now, even when the title 'Symphony' still prompts certain expectations of cogently argued music on a large canvas - this is a massively impressive, deeply serious piece. [Listen - track 2, 9:18 - 10:18.] It was begun in 1988, by which time Penderecki's style had shed almost all of what some people saw as the most aggressively provocative elements of the avant-garde, and only completed seven years later. It does in fact show fairly clear signs of a sort of neo-Romanticism (though the composer rebuts this suggestion). There are big gestures (big, but not emptily rhetorical) and a mass of emotional involvement. The sheer gravity of the piece places it in the mainstream of the symphonic tradition, and this is something Penderecki admits to have striven for.

The last two movements - Passacaglia and Vivace - are the finest, though they were written first. There are strong musical ideas and they are clearly articulated by the formal structures. The central adagio is deeply expressive music too. There is a distanced but powerful presence of Shostakovich here - something which is quite a common feature of Penderecki's later music. But Shostakovich would win hands down in terms of symphonic argument (how, at the end of the day, can you argue music on anything other than a Webernian micro scale so that it achieves not just thesis and synthesis but also direction, goals and reconciliations, except by exploiting tonal implications? And Penderecki's tonalities are evident, but only just).Yet Penderecki's orchestration, even on a bad day, surpasses that of Shostakovich, even at his best.

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Copyright © 3 June 2000 Peter Dale, Essex, UK






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