Seven Gates of Jerusalem
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Jerusalem has special significance for Penderecki, who first visited it in 1974, following the 'Yom Kippur' war. He was commissioned then to write a work for the third millennium celebration of the city of David. He composed the oratorio Seven Gates of Je
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Penderecki's Symphony no. 7, "Seven Gates of Jerusalem" is a large-scale romantic composition of immediate appeal. It is a powerful religious work of over an hour's duration scored for orchestra, five singers, a narrator, and chorus. It is beautifully rendered on this budget-priced Naxos CD by the Warsaw National Phiharmonic Orchestra conducted by Antoni Wit. Wit is in the process of recording Penderecki's symphonies and orchestral compositions for Naxos.
Penderecki composed this symphony in 1996 to celebrate the third millenium of Jerusalem and it was premiered in that city in 1997. Initially conceived as an oratorio, Penderecki subsequently decided to call the work a symphony. Chorus and soloists predominate from beginning to end. The work is in seven movements, each of which sets texts from the Psalms and Prophets that describe Jerusalem. The movement is in turns broad and powerful and quiet and intimate with large orchestral and choral passages alternating with passages for the soloists and for small ensembles. The movements likewise differ widely in scope with three lengthy movements, the first, fifth and seventh, interspersed with four shorter and generally quieter movements. Many of the themes of the work and the repetition of notes make use of the number 7 -- for the gates of Jerusalem (an eighth gate is said to wait until the time of the Messiah).
The work opens with a majestic setting of Psalm 47's "Great is the Lord and highly to be praised/ in the city of God on our holy mountain." There
is a middle section for the soloists after which the opening material returns in force. The second movement is a short meditation for soloists on the text "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be given to oblivion." (Psalm 136) This text returns as well in the fourth movement. The third movement is unique in that it is in an unaccompanied, chant-like style setting the text "Out of the depths I have called to you Lord/Lord, hear my voice"from Psalm 129. The lengthy fifth movement is a song of praise with percussion, brass, and bells with alternating powerful and reflective sections setting texts from Psalms and several Prophets. The Sixth movement features a speaker reciting in Hebrew verses from Ezekiel to the accompaniment of solemn brass. The finale has the character of an enormous summation, beginning with a setting of Jerimiah's "Thus saith the Lord/Lo I give you the way of Life and the way of Death." This is intense music that works to a large climactic conclusion.
The highlights of this work are the magnificent opening phrase for brass and chorus, the intimate, archaic third movement, and especially the recital passages of Boris Carmeli in the climactic sixth movement. The effect of this entire work, on initial hearing, is overwhelming and visceral.
Those expecting highly modern, difficult music will not find it in this symphony. Instead, this is modern music of great immediacy and passion in the language of religious devotion. The texts are not included in the liner notes, but they are available on the Naxos website.
Leave all preconceived ideas about Penderecki, this is not the scary music you might have heard on The Shining soundtrack (wonderful as that is), nor is it the wrenching Threnody that is almost too emotionally painful to bear.
In the Symphony 7, Penderecki achieves accessibility without selling out. It's still challenging, but not bloodlessly academic-- it has real emotional power, consistently holds the attention, merits multiple hearings from both intellectual and purely visceral levels.
This is surely one of those pieces you hear and think, "Why have I not heard this before? Why isn't this performed all the time?" The performers probably would tell you that the difficulty level has a lot to do with it-- top shelf musicianship and extremely disciplined focus is required of all. Wit and his forces are outstanding, orchestra, soloists, chorus down to the last person. Home run for all involved.
I probably will be obsessed with this for a while, and won't stop until I own all of Wit's recordings of Penderecki on Naxos. Once again, we owe Naxos our thanks for bringing us affordable recordings of ignored works.
but I'll say this: This works matches the
greatness of some of the monumental pieces
of the 20th Century. I consider it up there
with Shostakovich's symphonies, and with
some of the great choral works of all times.
There are three recordings available. The first one with Kord as conducter has the best balance in the sections where there are solo singers, though not perfect. I tend to prefer that recording because of its balance, and I also think the tenor does a great job.
The newest recording with Penderecki himself as conductor has its merits, and has better balanced soloists than Wit. The tempo, a little slower than Wit and a lot slower than Kord, seems ideal and at times superbly phrased, and he brings out a long, held brass note in the beginning that you don't hear well in the other versions. The brass in that section generally has more punch, which you may or may not prefer. The choir can be a little underwhelming in terms of volume.
The version by Wit on Naxos - this version - has the most stunning climax near the end (the recap of the material near the beginning), with the counterpoint in one of the passages being significantly clearer than in the other versions. This recording is worth hearing for that passage alone. It is amazing. Wit's singers also seem to use vibrato more judiciously, though none of the versions are exactly bad.
If you're as much a fan of the first movement as I am, you'll probably want all of the versions. However, there is room for improvement in all of them; hopefully there will be new attempts in the future.