Friday, December 25, 2015
Leave it to Polish conductor Krzysztof Penderecki to suck all the fun out of Christmas with his haunting, almost hellish Christmas Symphony. Recorded in 1981 with the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra and a cluster of evocative of vocalists, the symphony is a exactly the opposite of what one would assume from a holiday piece. Dark and foreboding, the music is actually an interpretation of "Silent Night" though listeners will be hard-pressed to discern any details. Discarding the more minimalist/conservative avant-garde style of his earlier works, Penderecki considers his Christmas piece a turning point in his career, what most classical reviewers mark as his maturation into neo-romanticism (I wouldn't be pretentious enough to claim that analysis as my own). Included in the performance is Penderecki's wonderful rendition of Te Deum ("Thee, O God"), an Ambrosian hymn still quite popular in the Catholic Church (evidently during papal ceremony). Equally as unsettling as it's predecessor, the piece and would find itself perfectly at home in any number of cerebral horror flicks (Shining anyone?). Significantly more choral, the last third of the movement is my favorite, a typical Penderecki tradeoff between soprano and baritone that simply sounds ominous and fearful. Enjoy.