Atom String Quartet: Penderecki

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Krzysztof Penderecki, who recently celebrated his 86th birthday (23 November), is widely considered to be Poland’s greatest living composer. As such, this dedication from the Polish jazz-centric Atom String Quartet comes as no great surprise.

Many of Penderecki’s works are naturally suited to string ensembles, and notable examples include Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima, Polymorphia and The Awakening Of Jacob – the latter of these being most famous for their use in horror films such as The Exorcist and The Shining. However, in Penderecki, the Atom String Quartet present arrangements of compositions originally written for woodwind, tuba and solo cello, as well as music from the 1965 Polish film The Saragossa Manuscript.

The unmistakably tense style of Penderecki is captured perfectly. Nauseating glissandos, polyrhythms and nail-bitingly rough strings pull the listener along in unpredictable directions, as recognisable themes from the original compositions are interspersed with passages of improvisation. The jazziest of these occurs midway through the ensemble’s arrangement of Capriccio Für Tuba Solo, with a swung violin solo against a walking bassline in Krzysztof Lenczowski’s cello. Elsewhere, in the third movement of 3 Miniature Per Clarinetto E Pianoforte, the accompanying percussive beating of instruments is suggestive of hard rock.

All this audible angst is juxtaposed with the lighter baroque movements of Drei Stücke Im Alten Stil (from The Saragossa Manuscript). These rather straightforward, faithful arrangements are placed at intervals throughout the album, perhaps as welcome respite from Penderecki at his most challenging.

Indeed, the music of Krzysztof Penderecki is very rarely easy listening and the Atom String Quartet have made sure that this remains the case here. Nevertheless, these faithful yet fresh and original arrangements have surely done Poland’s greatest living composer justice.

Discography
Capriccio Für Tuba Solo; 3 Miniature Per Clarinetto E Pianoforte, Miniature I Allegro; 3 Miniature Per Clarinetto E Pianoforte, Miniature II, Andante Cantabile; 3 Miniature Per Clarinetto E Pianoforte, Miniature III Allegro Ma Non Troppo; Drei Stücke Im Alten Stil Nach Musik Zu Dem Film “Die Handschrift Von Saragossa” Für Streichorchester, II Menuetto I; Suite Per Violoncello Solo, II Serenade; Suite Per Violoncello Solo, VII Scherzo; Drei Stücke Im Alten Stil Nach Musik Zu Dem Film “Die Handschrift Von Saragossa” Für Streichorchester, III Menuetto II; Prelude For Solo Clarinet Bb; Drei Stücke Im Alten Stil Nach Musik Zu Dem Film “Die Handschrift Von Saragossa” Für Streichorchester, I Aria (46.37)
Dawid Lubowicz, Mateusz Smoczyński (vn); Michał Zaborski (vla); Krzysztof Lenczowski (clo). Mieczysław Karłowicz Philharmonic Hall, Szczecin, Poland, 7-8 January 2019.
Philharmonia Szczecin FS008