PENDERECKI: Symphony No. 7 "Seven Gates of Jerusalem."
(soprano); Aga Mikolaj (soprano); Ewa Marciniec (alto); Wieslaw Ochman
(tenor); Romuald Tesarowicz (bass); Boris Carmeli (narrator); Warsaw National
Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra/Antoni Wit, cond.
Naxos 8.557766 (B) (DDD) TT: 60:47
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Fire and brimstone and more brimstone. After kicking up his avant-gardiste heels in the Sixties, Penderecki more or less settled down as a classic
Modern. He turns out a lot of music. Some pieces I find way better than
others. I always feel a tingle of suspense when I pick up a CD of his music.
Delight or disappointment?
Unfortunately, it's the latter for me, despite some fine movements. Indeed,
the movements make a better impression one at a time than all together.
In seven movements, corresponding to the seven gates (the eighth gate of
Jerusalem is reserved for the Messiah), the symphony consists mainly of
psalm settings and the dry-bones passage of Ezekial. The number seven apparently
runs throughout the symphony, if you listen hard enough. I confess I haven't.
Something has gone wrong fundamentally in this work. I'm not sure what.
It suffers, however, from a kind of artistic and spiritual bloat, a sameness
of tone and tempo. Penderecki sets even "happy" psalms the same
way. Almost everything is pounding Angst. Imagine Orff's "O fortuna" going
on for close to an hour. I feel bullied, rather than moved.
The performers, on the other hand, acquit themselves very well. I shudder
to think how much worse I would have felt about a conductor less disciplined
than Antoni Wit. The soloists, especially the sopranos, meet their taxing
parts with warmth and enthusiasm. The choral diction pretty much crumbles
to mush, although the singers do well enough by the notes. Above all, however,
this is Wit's show, and he does manage to give you moments of genuine power.
S.G.S. (February 2007)