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Atom String Quartet: Penderecki

Ian Patterson By

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Following its stunning interpretation of the music of Polish jazz violinist Zbigniew Seifert on Seifert (Zbigniew Seifert Foundation, 2017), Atom String Quartet turns its attention to the oeuvre of another great of contemporary Polish music—classical composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki. Born in 1933, Penderecki's writing encompasses choral works, operas, symphonies, concerti, chamber music, sacred music, and on one occasion, music for large jazz ensemble. He is, simply, one of the classical giants of the past sixty years. Penderecki's boldly original works are well suited to the adventurous spirit of Atom String Quartet, which revels in the vibrant rhythmic pulses that course through the composer's music, while taking great, imaginative leaps with the melodic and harmonic possibilities therein.

Atom String Quartet, however, is not your ordinary string ensemble. The intoxicating improvisations of dual violinists Dawid Lubowicz and Mateusz Smoczynski, violist Michal Zaborski and cellist Krzysztof Lenczowski, make it a jazz quartet at heart. Whilst familiarity with these Penderecki compositions is not essential to appreciate Atom String Quartet's breath-taking virtuosity, it is recommended to better appreciate the respect for the original scores that underlies and that inspires such freedoms. The ten-minute "Capriccio fur Tuba solo," for example, may seem like a succession of jaw-dropping solos, but the quartet faithfully traces the melodic contour of the original piece throughout, accentuating the dramatic rhythms to create a foreboding tour-de-force of gothic overtones.

The triptych of "3 Miniature Per clarinetto e pianoforte" stretches the original score from just under four minutes to closer to seventeen, allowing a lot of wiggle room for Lenczowski (part 1) and Lubowicz (parts 2 & 3) to reimagine the arrangements. Taken together, these pieces exhibit starkly contrasting moods. The beautifully sombre slow segment in the second miniature, featuring lyrical solos from violin and bass-like cello, underpinned by quietly pulsing, almost organ-like rhythm from the second violin, is a particular highlight. Undoubtedly more spectacular, is the helter skelter hedonism of part three, where manic rhythms and unfettered soloing dissolve surreptitiously into a passage of cinematic serenity.

Despite Penderecki's music being used in numerous films, notable among them The Exorcist (1973) and The Shining (1980), as well as the 2017 TV series, Twin Peaks, the composer rarely ventured into film score composing. "Drei Stucke im alten Stil," divided into three parts, which were written for scenes in Polish director Wojciech Jerzy Has's film The Saragossa Manuscript (1965), was an exception. The two minuets are elegant, rather courtly baroque affairs that could have almost come from Joseph Hayden's pen, whereas the Smoczyński-arranged aria weaves a hauntingly melancholy spell.

A little at odds with the rest of the album, these baroque/romantic pieces nevertheless work as palate cleansers in between the denser, and more intense compositions. Chief among these are "Suite for violincello solo Vii Scherzo"—a veritable tempest of metal-esque riffs and racing ensemble lines—and "Prelude for solo clarinet," which fuses ragged pizzicato, manic riffing and nerve-shredding violin in the upper registers, before concluding in a serene yet eerie manner.

Soloists are not credited anywhere, but suffice it to say, the playing is uniformly outstanding. In any case, the essence of Atom String Quartet's magic, individual wizardry apart, lies in the skilful intertwining of the four voices. This is a rousing reworking of Penderecki's quite unique music, one that deserves to draw a wider audience for both the brilliant Polish composer, and for the one-of-a-kind Atom String Quartet.

Track Listing

Capriccio for Tuba solo; 3 Miniatures for clarinet e piano: Miniature i allegro; ii andante cantábile; iii allegro ma non troppo; Drei Stücke im alten Stil, ii minuet i; Suite for solo cello, ii serenade; Suite for solo cello, Vii scherzo; Drei Stücke im alten Stil, iii minuet ii; Prelude for solo clarinet Bb; Drei Stücke im alten Stil, I aria.

Personnel

Dawid Lubowicz: violin; Mateus Smoczyński: violin; Michal Zaborski: viola; Krzysztof Lenczowski: cello.

Additional information

Title: Penderecki | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Universal Music Poland

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