Summary for the Busy Executive: Fire and brimstone and more brimstone.
After kicking up his avant-gardiste heels in the Sixties, Penderecki more or less settled down as a classic Modern. He turns out a lot of music. Some pieces I find way better than others. I always feel a tingle of suspense when I pick up a CD of his music. Delight or disappointment?
Unfortunately, it's the latter for me, despite some fine movements. Indeed, the movements make a better impression one at a time than all together. In seven movements, corresponding to the seven gates (the eighth gate of Jerusalem is reserved for the Messiah), the symphony consists mainly of psalm settings and the dry-bones passage of Ezekiel. The number seven apparently runs throughout the symphony, if you listen hard enough. I confess I haven't. Something has gone wrong fundamentally in this work. I'm not sure what. It suffers, however, from a kind of artistic and spiritual bloat, a sameness of tone and tempo. Penderecki sets even "happy" psalms the same way. Almost everything is pounding Angst. Imagine Orff's "O fortuna" going on for close to an hour. I feel bullied, rather than moved.
The performers, on the other hand, acquit themselves very well. I shudder to think how much worse I would have felt about a conductor less disciplined than Antoni Wit. The soloists, especially the sopranos, meet their taxing parts with warmth and enthusiasm. The choral diction pretty much crumbles to mush, although the singers do well enough by the notes. Above all, however, this is Wit's show, and he does manage to give you moments of genuine power.
Copyright © 2008, Steve Schwartz