Volume two of Naxos's Cycle of Krzysztof Penderecki's orchestral works continues a successful series of recordings by Antoni Wit and the NPRSO (Katowice) with two massive symphony's, No. 5 and No.1, in that order.
Encountering one of Penderecki's symphonies for the fist time, having known his unabashedly modernist St. Luke Passion and such orchestral works as Polymorphia, I was very surprised by Symphony No. 5. It is largely conventional in language, having episodes that remind me of any number of modern symphonists, from Simpson to Honneger. Once, about nine minutes in, a vividly painted image seems to recall a Sibelian frozen vista and then it shades into a Wagnerian forest scene. Far from an exercise in derivation, however, there is a very individual personality at work here. All of the directness of purpose and clarity of expression that I value in Penderecki's early music is present in this 1992 score. It is a powerful, dramatic and substantive work.
Symphony No. 1 returns to the world of bent notes, sour glissandi and violent, bloody tone clusters we know and love from early Penderecki, though by this date (1973) his style had already started to change. Still, like the 5th, this thirty minute symphony is a dark and moving story told in finely contrasted episodes of subtlety orchestrated and at times arrestingly dramatic music. Penderecki is a part of the great lineage of symphonists and the form is richer for the inclusion of these two works.