LPO/Penderecki review – time hasn't blunted the impact of Penderecki's Threnody

Royal Festival Hall, London
This fine concert featured Krzysztof Penderecki’s own compositions – with Radovan Vlatkovic the impressive soloist in the Horn Concerto – alongside Shostakovich’s Sixth

As a conductor, Krzysztof Penderecki is invariably associated with performances of his own music. But it was as an interpreter of other composers’ works that he first took up the baton, and most notably considered Shostakovich’s symphonies integral to his repertory. The second half of this rather fine London Philharmonic Orchestra concert consisted of the latter’s Sixth, prefaced by Penderecki’s own Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. Both works represent musical responses to the crises of the mid 20th century.

The Threnody, written in 1960 when Penderecki was still very much a rebel avant-gardist, remains one of his greatest scores. Time hasn’t blunted its impact and its excruciating tone clusters, suggesting the pain and terror of the injured and dying, still get indelibly under your skin. Shostakovich’s Sixth, meanwhile, dates from 1939 as war loomed and the Hitler-Stalin pact kicked in. Penderecki did fine things with its opening largo, in which hints of distant military threat intrude on a mood of sullen despair. The circus finale, culminating in a tune that might have strayed from Lehár, could have done with a bit more panache.

The UK premieres of two of Penderecki’s more recent works, both written in his late, neo-Romantic style, formed the evening’s first half. The Adagio for Strings (2013) reworks the slow movement of his own Third Symphony (1995) as a sustained elegy: Shostakovich’s compositional influence is more than once apparent, though the scoring is reminiscent of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. The wonderful Radovan Vlatkovíc was the soloist in the 2008 Horn Concerto. Penderecki nicknamed it “Winterreise”, though it is less informed by Schubert than by memories of a childhood hunting trip with his uncle, as an achingly nostalgic passacaglia gives way to an athletic rondo. It has a disquieting, at times savage beauty, and was beautifully done.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

AUKSO Chamber Orchestra/Penderecki/Mos – review

The Threnody is still so shockingly powerful that placing it first rendered what some of what followed anticlimactic, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

23, Mar, 2012 @5:48 PM

Article image
Belcea Quartet review – perfunctory Penderecki and poised Schubert
The Belceas gave the premiere of Penderecki’s brief neo-Romantic Fourth String Quartet, and in two Schubert quartets, blended technical refinement with emotional extremes

Tim Ashley

13, Dec, 2016 @3:31 PM

Article image
RNCM Symphony Orchestra/Penderecki review – a biblical maelstrom
With the charisma of an Old Testament prophet, the composer brought a spiritual intensity to the first UK performance of his Seventh Symphony

Alfred Hickling

28, Jun, 2015 @2:42 PM

Krzysztof Penderecki/Jonny Greenwood: Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima; Popcorn Superhet Receiver; Polymorphia; 48 Responses to Polymorphia – review
The avant-garde master and Radiohead art-rocker combine to powerful effect, says Stephen Pritchard

Stephen Pritchard

18, Mar, 2012 @12:01 AM

Article image
Krzysztof Penderecki obituary
Polish composer and conductor who was a leading figure in contemporary music

Keith Potter

29, Mar, 2020 @1:10 PM

Article image
Penderecki Conducts Penderecki Vol 2 CD review – uplifting choral works
Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra/ Penderecki
(Warner Classics)

Fiona Maddocks

22, Oct, 2017 @6:25 AM

Article image
Penderecki: Complete Quartets review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week
Heard together, the differences between Penderecki’s First and Fourth quartets map an epic journey in 20th-century music

Andrew Clements

02, Sep, 2021 @4:19 PM

Article image
Krzysztof Penderecki: horror film directors' favourite composer
Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki’s wild, terrifying, and imaginative music has soundtracked horror classics from The Shining to The Exorcist. Tom Service explains why

Tom Service

03, Nov, 2011 @9:30 PM

Article image
Penderecki: Magnificat CD review - a peculiar and gripping mix played at full throttle
The choir feels a little unfocused in this recording of Penderecki’s sacred works

Kate Molleson

07, May, 2015 @5:45 PM

Article image
Enigmatic, devotional, restless … a guide to Krzysztof Penderecki's music
From Kubrick to Aphex Twin, Lynch to Radiohead, the Polish composer’s otherworldly sounds have inspired musicians and soundtracked some of cinema’s most haunting moments

Philip Clark

29, Mar, 2020 @4:45 PM