I pretty much can listen to almost every sort of classical music, from the classical and romantic eras (R. Strauss, Beethoven, Wagner, Berlioz, Rachmaninov, Elgar, etc.) to the 20th century and the present day (Stravinsky, Messiaen, Respighi, Holst, Lauridsen, Glass, etc.). I listen to only one composer from the Baroque period, and that's J.S. Bach (Baroque isn't very interesting to me, anyways). While the music of the Classical Period are absolutely and extraordinarily timeless, I'm more for the music of the Romantic/20th century. Respighi, Sibelius, Debussy, Bruckner, Tavener, and many others have created such extravagant works (like "La Mer" and "The Firebird"). They're also more diverse than anywhere else (Stravinsky with his neo-classical forms, Debussy with his impressionistic orchestrations, Schoenberg with his 12-tone serialism, etc). As the maestro Michael Tilson Thomas once said, Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven can never be conquered, as they are legendary and unmatched. That I can understand fully, but the later composers I still prefer. And now, here's yet another 20th-century composer that's part of my CD collection . . .
The first time I've heard music from Polish-born composer Krzysztof Penderecki was from the Kubrick horror classic, The Shining. It grew on me, and I just had to hear more from him. So I bought the St. Luke Passion on Amazon (actually from Newbury Comics, an Amazon seller, but anyway), played the CD, and 76 minutes later, I was completely hooked. This is not gentle Mozart-like music. This is more in the likes of Ligeti's "Atmospheres" and "Requiem." This is a very powerful work that requires a very large orchestra and a very professional choir. These two requirements are due to the fact that St. Luke Passion is full of raw emotion and power.
Penderecki is a very religious man, and his strongest beliefs are expressed here. St. Luke Passion tells of the mockings against Christ as he is about to be crucified. We all know how disturbing his death is described in the Bible. Well, just imagine how it is expressed through music: Penderecki has created some of the most violent (and some of the eeriest) music that's ever been heard in the 20th-Century. Full of harsh strings and percussion, loud woodwinds and brass, and ghostly choral techniques, this is a large-scale work that probably shouldn't be played with the lights turned off.
Upon listening to it, you can tell that this is certainly very hard to perform. Perhaps that's why it's rarely recorded. In this particular 2002 recording, however, Antoni Wit and the Polish forces have covercome this sort of challenge by playing it almost perfectly. Everything is set off without a hitch. The strings have that right amount of madness that's required, while the brass and woodwinds manage to achieve the nightmarish requirements with the fewest mistakes. The Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir and the Warsaw Boys Choir have done an excellent job: they were able to pull it off by becoming Penderecki experts. Wit, especially, knows the score very well. He is able to bring out the fullest qualities that are needed for this sort of work. Credit should be given to him and his forces for performing this complicated choral work.
Naxos has released a series of Penderecki works, and continues to release more to this day. I'm looking forward to all of them, as Penderecki has quickly become one of my favorite 20th-century composers.