ŁUKASZEWSKI Sinfonietta GÓRECKI Concerto-Notturno
These modern Polish composers may not have songs in their hearts – at least ones of their own – but they certainly have rhythm, from charming syncopation to the outer limits of head-pounding mania, sometimes making that journey in a single movement. But for all its good intentions, fine playing and posh sound quality, this disc suffers from some questionable strategic decisions that significantly limit its appeal.
All five pieces inhabit the same strings-only Penderecki-esque sound world which can be monotonous, particularly in these performances by the apparently conductorless Baltic Neopolis Orchestra. Stronger leadership is needed to reveal what the music is trying to say. Paweł Łukaszewski’s expressionistic Sinfonietta (it earns its name not from a light-hearted manner but movements of three minutes or less) is far more powerfully served by the Podlasie Philharmonic Orchestra under Piotr Borkowski, in which the music’s churning gestures have far more bite, punch and expressive range.
The repertoire doesn’t always show the composers at their best. Łukaszewski’s voice is far more distinctive in his explosive, intense choral works that suggest James MacMillan but with a basis in Polish liturgical chant. His Lenten Music is like the instrumental portion of something larger, and, by itself, is a bit obscure. The Adagietto from Symphony of Providence stands reasonably well on its own, creating an anguished contrast to Mahler’s famous movement of the same title.
Mikołaj Górecki, son of Henryk, is heard in the Concerto-Notturno that he wrote when he was not yet 30, a piece whose first movement quotes Puccini’s La bohème. And though the quotation cleverly leads in altogether more personal directions, it’s not the most respectable calling card. The rest of the piece, with solo violin compellingly played by the orchestra’s leader Tomasz Tomaszewski, is more original, with its tango-flavoured second movement; but not until his 2009 Divertimento at the end of the disc does one sense a formidable compositional voice that has little family resemblance to his father.