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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Panufnik, Lutoslawski, String Quartets, Tippett Quartet

Of twentieth-century Polish composers there are many, many fine ones. The later modernists were at one time dominated by Penderecki, for various mostly good reasons, but here in the States we heard less of Lutoslawski (1913-1994) and very little of Panufnik.

Happily we celebrate the 100th birthday for Panufnik (1914-1991) this year, so all who are curious are getting the chance to know the composer more intimately (type his name in the search box above and you will see some of the new releases that I have posted on thus far). At the same time Lutoslawski's music has surged in terms of recorded performances in the last few decades. So we are learning much more these days about the later 20th-century modern movement there.

With a new Naxos (8.573164) release we get to hear all three string quartets by Panufnik coupled with Lutoslawski's only work in the medium, all played nicely by the Tippett Quartet.

What the disk does in a nutshell is affirm Lutoslawski's stature in the modern pantheon, but it also gives us a chance to see the chamber side of Panufnik in great depth, with three excellent quartets that have been rather neglected in the discographies. And he fares very well with these works on close listening.

The Panufnik quartets each have a character of their own. No. 1 (1976) is a rather somber affair; No. 2 "Messages" (1980) has a bit more flow, as it is based on how Panufnik in his youth was fascinated by the sound he heard when he put his ear to a telegraph pole, as he listened to the humming caused by the wind setting the wires in motion. No. 3, "Wycinanki" (1990), generates musical impressions of traditional Polish folk paper-cut art.

All three have some of the structural strengths of the mature Panufnik. A serialist he isn't, but he often organizes works around a sort of generative grammar of particular intervals or motives, a structural tendency that gives the music an inherent logic. The listener may not be aware of the limitations Panufnik sets for himself in such a work, yet there is long-form continuity and contrast. These three works (affirmed by reading the liner notes) do not have rigorous motival schemes in the literal sense, yet there is coherent musical discourse throughout that builds on motival-intervalic logic. There is great strength and subtlety in the three quartets. All told they show a master musical mind at work, Panufnik at his mature best.

The Lutoslawski string quartet extends the idea of a modern abstract, coherent discourse in its own way. The two-movement quartet from 1964 is his only work in this configuration. It has a more cosmically expressive dynamic that makes for a fitting end-point to the program. One wishes he wrote more quartets and it is equally true for me of Panufnik.

We have these four works to experience and relish in any event. The Tippett Quartet gives us fine readings, detailed yet woven into whole cloth, the patterns and changes brought out in sharp outline.

With the Naxos price, this CD gives you much to explore and appreciate without eating into your retirement savings, or your nest egg in general, assuming you have one! It is a most valuable addition to any self-respecting modernist's collection, with works you may well want to return to continually, each time gaining something new from the experience. Get this one!

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