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Our critics' picks in new releases

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Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki (Pen-de-rets-ky) made a name for himself in the 1950s and '60s as a member of the Polish musical renaissance. His revolutionary style, espousing the avant-garde experimentations of Western European composers, gave him a cult status among modernists. His Symphony No. 1, composed in 1973, explores the range of sonorities of a modern orchestra to its limit, as do the Fluorescences and De Natura Sonoris II. Penderecki got disenchanted with these experiments, however, and considered them a dead end. In his subsequent symphonies, he reverted to a late-Romantic tonal style, indebted to Mahler and Scriabin and, especially in his Fourth Symphony, to Shostakovich. But he also included the lessons he learned from his experiments with orchestral sonorities, and his musical ideas are original, exciting, with a powerful dynamic drive. They represent some of the most interesting symphonic music from the latter part of the 20th century. The Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, probably Penderecki's most famous work, is scored for 52 string instruments. The composer evokes from these a wealth of sounds, from the opening hair-raising scream and the noise of sirens to the panic and chaos that ensues. The disjointed sounds gradually coalesce into a veritable firestorm that then fades to the silence of death. The composition is a gripping lament on the senselessness of all wars.

Antoni Wit and the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra give the music all they have, and they have a lot. Wit brings out the emotional intensity of the music and meticulously highlights the inner voices even in the most complex passages. Excellent recordings.

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