Krzysztof Penderecki
St. Luke Passion


4.5
superb

Review

by Nick Butler EMERITUS
February 15th, 2007 | 13 replies


Release Date: 1966 | Tracklist

Review Summary: This 1966 composition is one of the most impressive avant-garde statements of intent this reviewer has ever come across.

I've been doing a lot of reading around Penderecki recently, and one word that cropped up was 'pyrotechnic'. I think that's fitting. Krzysztof Penderecki was one of a handful of composers - Iannis Xenakis and Gyorgy Ligeti among them - who tore at the cold complexity of serialism with works that were emotional in the extreme - gutteral, anguished, often terrifying. Xenakis' "Metastatis", Ligeti's "Lux Aeterna", and Penderecki's "Threnody For The Victims of Hiroshima" are arguably the big three works when considering pieces that combine avant-garde experimentalism with raw emotional expression. 'Pyrotechnic' is so fitting because Penderecki's work from this era was so immediately powerful and overwhelming, and though it arguably lacked depth, the impact is such that he's arguably infiltrated popular culture more than any other truly avant-garde composer. Just ask Bloc Party, Scott Walker, and Manic Street Preachers.

St. Luke Passion - or, to give it a full title, Passio Et Mors Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Secundum Lacum, continues in a similar vein. This is a pyrotechnic work is a lot of senses. For one thing, it's absolutely massive in scope. The orchestra is augmented with a chorus, 4 soloists, a speaker, saxophones, and a massive percussion section that takes in Chinese and Javanese gongs, tom-toms, and bass drums. Moreover, the piece draws Gregorian chant, serialism, and major choral sections (opening and closing the piece) into its repertoire. The libretto extends the original Passion to include some hymns, psalms,

JS Bach is noted as an influence, and you can justify that - the structure of the piece follows the structure of Bach's own Passions, not to mention that Penderecki uses the BACH tone row - but ultimately this sounds nothing like the Preludes & Fugues. This work is monolithic in every sense - it's dark, dense, often impenetrable, and of course, experimental. The chorus is, at various times, asked to chatter incessantly - giggling, shouting, whispering and hissing can all be clearly heard. The first movement, "O Crux", lasts for over 35 minutes, much of which is dominated by the chorus. It's not easy going, but it is stunning - probably the strongest 'track' here, if we're playing favourites. Small ostinato melodies that disappear as soon as they have appeared, occasional microtonal glissandi and sound masses, vocal cries you'll indentify with if you ever followed up an interest in my review of Diamanda Galas (though, it must be said, this isn't as plain evil); this is heavyweight stuff. At around 16 minutes, it all kicks off - the massive tone clusters, first from the orchestra, then the chorus. Penderecki's trademark of the era, if he had one. It's mindblowing stuff. By the time you're at the 20 minute mark, it becomes apparent that this might be the greatest film score that never was. Certainly, Jurassic Park would be improved if this music accompanied the sheer terror of some of the more thrilling scenes.

The second movement, "In pulverum mortis", is arguably as massive, though it seems a little less impressive having followed "O Crux". Still, there are moments that are pure pyrotechnic brilliance - the climax at 4.20, for instance. In fact, it's heights may be even higher than those of "O Crux", though they are more sparse. The final 2 movements, on the other hand, are much smaller, standing at roughly 7 minutes each. What's most fascinating about these is that they both end with simple major chords (D and E respectively; the first a capella, the second with full orchestra). After bombarding the listener with tone centres, serialist ideas, chromaticism, and complete departures from any sense of Western tonality, these chords are perhaps the most shocking moments of the piece. The last 20 seconds of the almost entirely a capella "Stabat Mater" - which borrows heavily from an earlier Penderecki composition of the same name - sound very similar to the music that plays during the ITV Champions League coverage (just in case any British football fans are reading this).

Arguably all of Penderecki's obsessions come to the fore here, in this work. The contrast with atonal and tonal elements; the casual flirtation with serialism; the mass choral writing; the walls of pure sound; the tone clusters; the religious devotion that drives him. This is a fantastic work; every bit as important to both Penderecki and 20th century music as a whole as the more famous "Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima". As an album, too, I'd place this above Matrix 5 (an album SubtleDagger once referred to as 'my Bible', incidentally - so there's your Penderecki recommendation right there!). It's certainly one of the strongest complete works I've ever been exposed to.

The performance here is by the Warsaw National Philarmonic Chorus and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, and is conducted by Penderecki himself. The fidelity of the recording is excellent. It is, probably, the definitive recording of this work.



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user ratings (10)
Chart.
4.3
superb

Comments:Add a Comment 
Sepstrup
February 15th 2007


1564 Comments


This was a magnificent piece of writing, although at times it sounds more like an assignment for a music class than a review, but I suppose that's necessary for this type of music (I generally don't like discussing music theory, the technical stuff, in a review.

Still, one of the best pieces of writing I've seen from you in a while. Two thumbs up and one pos vote.

When I hear a recommendation for something like this, I always feel urged to check it out because I may never come across it again. Conversely, I don't think it's as important when something recommends me a Led Zeppelin album or something because I know I'll eventually hear it even if I don't check it out right now.This Message Edited On 02.15.07

Iai
Emeritus
February 15th 2007


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I've actually written this having just given a presentation on Penderecki for an assignment, so you're probably right. I tried to get away from that, but writing purely about enjoyment and whatnot in any review seems a little hollow for me, let alone one for an album where exactly what's going on is a major part of it.

I'm amazed this has managed 2 votes and 1 comment. I already had it bookmarked to bump it in a week's time.

Edit: Whoa, I just realised, I posted this on here with a reference to RYM, and on RYM with a reference to SubtleDagger. DuhhhhhhhThis Message Edited On 02.15.07

Sepstrup
February 15th 2007


1564 Comments


Not writing about theory doesn't necessarily make a review hollow though. There's plenty of depth to write about, even if you don't know the difference between a major and a minor chord.

That said, I don't really think it's a problem here. You kept it fairly simple, and since most people here are musicians themselves they should understand what you're on about.

I presume the presentation went well?

Iai
Emeritus
February 15th 2007


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I think so. My lecturer sat there nodding like a dog for most of it, although he did drop in at the end that he personally thought Penderecki's music was all surface and was a little too shallow for him to truly enjoy it.

Which is probably true, but what a surface!

Sepstrup
February 15th 2007


1564 Comments


So where can I acquire/hear this?

Iai
Emeritus
February 15th 2007


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

If you like, I could send it you on MegaUpload or some such thing. Or even Soulseek. I got it from my university's library, personally.

Sepstrup
February 15th 2007


1564 Comments


I don't have Soulseek. It's too hi-tech for me . MegaUpload would be sweet.

Iai
Emeritus
February 15th 2007


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'm going to my girlfriend's now. I'll upload it for you in a couple hours. Drop us an e-mail, coz I don't wanna post it here in case we get in trouble.

stemlongstem (at) gmail (dot) com

Doppelganger
February 15th 2007


3124 Comments


Wow, this is a fantastic review!

204409
Emeritus
February 15th 2007


3996 Comments


[quote=iai]Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima[/quote]

Yo, have you ever seen the score for this? It's awesome just to look at.

Iai
Emeritus
February 15th 2007


3553 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

In all seriousness, it's sat in front of me right now. The key in the front makes me giggle, because my girlfriend's a violinist, and she threatened to kill me when I asked her to show me how to do all that stuff.

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
July 19th 2010


15083 Comments


not on here but threnody for victims of hiroshima is INSANELY GOOD

liledman
January 22nd 2011


3826 Comments


review is awesome. i wish there were more reviews like you, who approached the same subject matter with as much knowledge.

looked at this very briefly in one of my classes last year, finally getting around to checking it out now.



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