Norman Lebrecht’s CD of the Week – Andrzej Panufnik
Poland’s most successful composer fled to the West in 1954, settled in a London suburb and, with the Thames lapping at his cabin doorstep, wrote for the first time without fear or political pressure. Under Nazi occupation, Panufnik had played four-hand piano recitals in underground cafés with his friend Witold Lutoslawski. Under Stalinist rule, he was forced by the commissars to write big tunes and wear a broad smile. His early symphonies can sound a tad simplistic.
In London, he became his own man, creatively and intellectually. His works became complex in the best sense of the term, expressing an idea that has been clarified to the nth degree by an independent, questing mind. The music may not always sound easy on the ear, but it is never less than fascinating and readily comprehensible.
The 7th symphony, titled Metasinfonia, is an organ concerto with lots of work for the timpani and a sense of struggle that leads to redemption. The 8th, Sinfonia Votiva, was commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and premiered with Seiji Ozawa in 1982. Dedicated to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, it anticipates the religious revolt that toppled communism and reunited Panufnik, near the end of his life (he died in 1991), with Poland.
A third work here is the Concerto Festivo for the London Symphony Orchestra, advertising its solo virtuosities in much the same way that Bartok does in his Concerto for Orchestra. There is not a dull moment on this album, the fifth in a series that Lukasz Borowicz is conducting for the 2014 composer’s centenary. The Konzerthaus orchestra of East Berlin play with unthrottled passion, in stunning sound.
Three radio retrievals
Bruckner and Mahler were Tennstedt’s prime specialities; who’d have imagined he would be so profound and evocative in the fourth symphony of Bohuslav Martinu? Tennstedt liked to say that he had a touch of Czech in him, but this is an interpretation to rank with the great Ancerl, penetrating a luminous sound world. It is paired with a glorious, ruminative performance of Brahms’s first, both played by the SWR Stuttgart Radio.
In an age of great pianists, the unassuming Hungarian gets unfairly overlooked. His account of the 2nd Brahms concerto (Otto Klemperer conducting) packs a massive punch – the kind of power you’d expect from Russians. The Tchaikovsky concerto, by contrast, he plays with an almost airy nonchalance and breath-taking subtlety (Georg Solti conducting). Absorbing interpretations with the orchestra of Cologne Radio. The soloist smokes a cigarette on the cover.
One of the post-war pioneers of Mahler and modernism, a role model for Pierre Boulez, Rosbaud (1895-1962) remains near-unknown beyond German borders. His 1951 broadcast of Mahler’s fifth symphony from Cologne was a national ear-opener. On record for the first time, it is a persuasive performance if a little old-fashioned and too brisk in the Adagietto. The mono sound is too constricted for general pleasure.
Norman Lebrecht is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other publications. He has written 12 books about music, the most recent being Why Mahler? He hosts the blog Slipped Disc.