AUKSO Chamber Orchestra/Penderecki/Mos – review

Barbican, London

This was a repeat of the now-famous concert in Poland last September that brought together Krzysztof Penderecki and one of his most notable admirers, Radiohead guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood. Penderecki's music has long been a main reference point for Greenwood's orchestral and film scores: their collaboration on concerts and a recently released album was perhaps only a matter of time.

The programme consisted of two pairings: Penderecki's seminal Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima with Greenwood's Popcorn Superhet Receiver; then Penderecki's Polymorphia, based on graphic notation taken from the brainwaves of people listening to the Threnody – followed by Greenwood's 48 Responses to Polymorphia. The C major chord that brings Penderecki's piece to a close forms the starting point of the Bach-like Chorale that Greenwood then subjects to a process of variation and fragmentation, sometimes plunging into Stravinskyan polyrhytmic territory far removed from Penderecki's inherent fluidity.

Penderecki, looking avuncular, conducted the AUKSO Chamber Orchestra in his own work, while Marek Mos, in shiny jeans, baggy shirt and headscarf, took over for Greenwood's. The performances were exemplary, and Greenwood's awe-struck appearance on the platform alongside Penderecki at the close led to a standing ovation. Yet I confess to doubts. The heavy reliance on dissonant string clusters in all four works results in a sense of stylistic sameness, and each piece would have been better served if heard individually in a contrasting context. The Threnody is still so shockingly powerful that placing it first rendered what some of what followed anticlimactic. The whole evening, meanwhile, was presented as an extravagant son et lumière, with whirling lights and video projections by Marcin Bania and Maciej Malinowski – often beautiful, but unnecessary and distracting in the extreme.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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