CD review: Penderecki’s Magnificat

First published in the Guardian on 7 May, 2015

Penderecki: Magnificat
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir/Wit (Naxos)

Krzysztof Penderecki first began writing sacred music in response to religious repression in the communist Poland of his youth, and through all his stylistic evolution — vehemently embracing then abandoning post-war modernism — his spiritual works have retained that thrust of blazing, deep-felt defiance. His Magnificat dates from 1974, a crossroad between early-period astringency and the effusive neo-romanticism he turned to from that point. It’s a peculiar and gripping mix: clammy tone clusters and slithering violins cut to resounding diatonic chords and bellowing bass solos — a massive sound here from Wojtek Gierlach. Antoni Wit conducts it all at full throttle, but the orchestra sounds more incisive than the choir, which is unfocused and a little stretched at the top. The other work on the disc is Kadisz, a 2009 memorial to the decimated Jewish ghetto of Lodz full of lush chords, triangle halos and sombre, scented choral passages. Soprano Olga Pasichnyk is ardent and lyrical in her solos; Daniel Olbrychski provides cartoonishly lurid narration.