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Penderecki' Utrenja was inspired by the Orthodox liturgy for Holy Saturday with its focus on the lamentation of Christ' death and the Easter Sunday morning service commemorating the Resurrection. The composer remarks that 'Utrenja is a combination of p
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The chorus sings, shouts, chants, and whispers in sliding atonal clusters of sound, surrounded by great dramatic outbursts from the orchestra (there is a big part for the bass drum and something that sounds like an anvil!). Better yet are the several Basso Profundos who sing demented church-style chants. Interspersed are a number of quieter sections that recall, alternatively, Palestrina, Slavic folk songs, and Orthodox church music. It all builds repeatedly to gargantuan, even frightening, climaxes (your neighbors will hate you). Charles Ives used to boast the he didn't write music for "sissies" - neither did Penderecki.
"All I'm interested in is liberating sound beyond all tradition," declared the young Penderecki, who in the 60's formally undermined Communist control of Poland by using mostly textures and tones in avant-garde compositions, and flaunting catholic sources under an athiest state. His two-part "Utrenja" is a challenging and emotional evocation of the "Entombment" (I) and "Resurrection" (II) of Christ. This 1971 duo carried deep metaphorical resonance for the generation chafing under the post-'68 crackdown, and propelled Penderecki's international support.
These are mainly choral pieces, led by three male and two female soloists, backed by a ephemeral choir and very percussive orchestra. They use the voice for emotional textures, not as angelic arias, to convey the anguish of the death of Jesus and astonishment at his return. Voices declare, argue, whisper, and lament. They shift between dissonant thickets of babble, chanted recitations, transcendent tones, penitent solos, fragmented murmurs, alarmed clarions, and white noise. It is intense and strangely beautiful. Sharp, bold orchestral rapids direct the flow of vocals like a rocky stream. This is a music of deep drama and complex emotional range, an epic story played out through a sonic landscape. Far from an aloof exercise, it is breathless, eerie, and alive.
Penderecki's use of driving percussion, dissonant or alien choirs, and tense silences made him a natural for edgy film scores; many of his works have been used to classic effect in such films as Friedkin's "The Exorcist", Kubrik's "The Shining", Lynch's "Wild At Heart" and "Inland Empire", and Cuaron's "Children of Men".