PANUFNIK Symphony No 9. Bassoon Concerto
Marking the centenary of Sir Andrzej Panufnik’s birth, these recordings, originally made by the BBC in 1987, offer a double insight into the composer. We have his own interpretations of two key works, each preceded by his spoken commentary. Both works were inspired by contemporary events – events which are rapidly becoming obscured by the mists of time – so it is good to experience directly his very personal response to what was happening back in the homeland he had left in 1954.
The recordings certainly show their age but while the sound is often shallow and hard-edged, the profound intensity of the music-making shines through with great potency. That is particularly evident in the Bassoon Concerto. Just as he started work on the Concerto, Panufnik heard of the torture and murder of the priest Father Jerzy Popieuszko and decided to dedicate it to his memory. With its humorous connotations, it might seem risky to use the bassoon as a vehicle to express profound grief but such is the power of Panufnik’s writing that what, in other hands, might sound clownish here evokes almost vocal utterances of pain and sorrow. Thompson clearly understands the emotional significance of the work and, supported by alert and incisive playing from the BBC SO, gives a performance of compelling intensity.
The Ninth Symphony, Sinfonia di Speranza, was composed immediately after the Bassoon Concerto and Panufnik describes it as the concerto’s ‘direct musical and spiritual sequel’. But he also refers to the rainbow as the work’s ‘guiding symbol’, and one thing missing from this performance is colour. We have the detail in black-and-white, as it were, but for all the intensity of his direction, the composer’s vision is significantly undermined by this unsympathetic BBC studio recording.