Krzysztof Penderecki died at the end of March aged eighty-six. In his later years, as well as breaking away from his avant-garde compositional style for something neo-Romantic, he developed a conducting career for his own and other composers’ music.
With the LPO he conducts three of his works: Horn Concerto ‘Winterreise’ (2008) is dramatic, atmospheric and quirky, sustaining its eighteen minutes well, and enjoying the superb services of Radovan Vlatković; whereas Adagio for Strings (an adaptation of Symphony 3’s slow movement) is rarefied and desolate, before climaxing intensely, and can’t avoid comparison with Shostakovich; and, also for strings, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, a Penderecki classic from 1960, music that screams in pain and depicts horror through a stream of remarkable effects, often savage.
The big beast here is Violin Concerto No.1 (1976, premiered by Isaac Stern), forty minutes of continuous music that (seems to) present the soloist as a character in a theatrical context, dark and tragic (tolling timpani – Brahms 1, Strauss’s Don Quixote, Ruggles’s Sun-Treader) with brassy interventions that remind of Lutosławski, yet, structurally, one wonders where one is and why, although a sense of arrival is apparent during the final few minutes, and the work as a whole continues to fascinate once listening to it is over. Barnabás Kelemen is the outstanding soloist, and Michał Dworzynski gets a committed response from the LPO (27 November 2013).
All of these recordings are from concerts at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall (applause removed), the composer’s date from 14 October 2015, and are excellent in terms of clarity and impact. LPO – 0116.