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Wojciech Kilar: Bogurodzica; Piano Concerto; Hoary Fog; Koscielec 1909
08 Oct 2006

KILAR: Piano Concerto

Among the exciting new releases in Naxos’s series of 21st Century Classics is a compilation of four works by Wojciech Kilar (b. 1932), which include two symphonic compositions and two vocal pieces.

Wojciech Kilar: Bogurodzica; Piano Concerto; Hoary Fog; Koscielec 1909

Waldemar Malicki; Wieslaw Ochman; Henryk Wojnarowski, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Warsaw Philharmonic Choir, Antoni Wit (cond.)

Naxos 8.557813 [CD]

$8.99  Click to buy

Through his accessible style, Kilar has become one of Poland’s best-known composers, and with a work like Bogurodzica (Mother of God), the first of the pieces collected in Tryptyk (1997). Removed from Kilar’s Tryptyk, Bogurodzica remains a strong work that conveys complex meanings through its highly textured structure. The martial overtones suggested by the percussion that frame the pieces are not out of place in a work that is also a paean to the Blessed Virgin. Composed before the fall of the Eastern bloc, the pained religiosity is nonetheless fervent in this piece that remains a powerful work for chorus and orchestra.

Yet the central work on this CD is Kilar’s Piano Concerto (1997), a relatively recent work in which the composer explores some aspects of minimalism to fine effect. The first movement (Andante con moto) has repetitive character establishes the timbre of the piece as a structural element, and like some of Kilar’s other music, the subtle textures are effective in serving as a prelude to the central movement (Corale). The various allusions in the second movement blur within a structure that essentially a set of variations that culminate in an intricate section for solo piano. Improvisatory in character, the passage reflects a change of tone in the movement that involves more interaction between the soloist and the orchestra. The tutti sonorities with which the movement ends are a springboard for the final movement (Toccata), which offers a contrasting character to what preceded it. Full or energy and rhythmic interest, this is a wonderfully exciting movement that reveals an innovative approach to composing a piano concerto at the end of the twentieth century. In some ways it resembles the tack that John Adams took in his Grand Pianola Music, which is essentially a Konzertstück – concertpiece – albeit in Adams’ work for two pianos and orchestra. At the same time, the more intricate passages in the final movement of Kilar’s Concerto suggest some aspects of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G minor. Yet the style of the 1997 work is wholly that of Kilar, who has reshaped the structure of the piano concerto in this fine new work.

The two other pieces included in this recording are also of interest. Siwa Mgla (Gray Mist) is a work for baritone and orchestra that is reminiscent of Sibelius’s tone poem Luonnatar. The evocative sonorities with which the piece begins set the tone for the entrance of the solo voice. Unlike some of Kilar’s other vocal music, this is a secular work that is nonetheless meditative. While some of the passages are atmospheric, the dramatic use of brass and percussion serve as a foil for the baritone, whose lines respond to the orchestral accompaniment. Just as Kilar can evoke the sound worlds of other composers in some of this works, the repeated minor thirds which intersect, at times, with pentatonic sonorities, convey the kind of Orientalism that Mahler used in Der Abschied, the final movement of his symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde. Composed in 1979, this work reflects another aspect of Kilar’s oeuvre as he evolved his style.

In fact, the finale work, Kościelec 1909 is a symphonic poem that Kilar completed in 1976. With its thick textures and complex sonorities, Kościelec 1909 evokes the precipitous mountain in the Tatrian range, with the year 1909 being significant for the date the promising Polish composer of the fin-de-siécle, Mieczysław Karłowicz died in a skiing accident in that area. Suggestive more than narrative, this piece serves as tribute to the earlier composer, whose tone poems established a niveau for composers of his generation, like Karol Szymanowski. Such tribute to Karłowicz is indeed touching, and this is an effective recording of a rarely heard work.

Antoni Wit is a fine interpreter of Kilar’s music, and the live performances preserved on this recording are noteworthy for various reasons. Wit’s command of the orchestral forces is quite effective, and he brings a convincing style to these fine works of a contemporary composer. This is an excellent selection of Kilar’s music, which merits further attention.

James L. Zychowicz

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