This release has the look and feel of a family album. It is centred on the three String Quartets of Sir Andrzej Panufnik, the centenary of whose birth has been marked this year (he died in 1991), and it includes contributions from his daughter, the composer Roxanna, who writes affectionately and knowledgeably of her father’s life and music.
The programme has been thoughtfully devised, and uses two pieces by Roxanna as poignant reference points. The first, Modlitwa (Prayer) is a collaborative work, Panufnik senior having written music for the second stanza of a poem by his friend Jerzy Pietrikiewicz but leaving the first bare. Roxanna has added some distinctive and entreating music at the outset, the cellos of Richard May and the Brodsky Quartet’s Jacqueline Thomas rendering a soft and beautiful intonation. A statement of unity, the brief piece is strongly affecting.
Roxanna’s second piece, Memories of My Father, is for string quartet, and is split into two parts for the purposes of this recording. The first (‘O tu, Andrzej’) is a solemn declaration that works-in a melody from Gesualdo’s motet ‘O vos omnes’, while the second is more playful, remembering family holiday time in Greece through persuasive bouzouki rhythms, using pizzicato and portamento to good effect before an emphatic conclusion.
Andrzej Panufnik came to the medium of the string quartet relatively late in his life, but the compositions bear the assurance of many years of writing for stringed instruments. In this way his route into the idiom is similar to Shostakovich, with whom his music can be closely compared. The first two Quartets are dedicated to his wife, Lady Camila, the third to his daughter and son, Jeremy.
String Quartet No.1 (1976/77) begins with a disparate ‘Prelude’, the instruments seemingly free to say what they like but also operating out of control – an aspect restored by the soft hues of ‘Transformations’, the second section that takes a similar mood to Modlitwa. Panufnik finds a remote but beautiful stillness when the four instruments hang suspended with high, icy harmonics towards the halfway point – a tension held exquisitely by the Brodsky players. Then the music gradually becomes more assertive, the four musicians still working closely together, but the piece ends inconclusively with a brusque ‘Postlude’ that offers little sense of resolution. An agitated discourse, its Bartókian conclusion is vigorously played here.
The Second String Quartet (1980) is Panufnik’s most intense and original utterance in the form. Subtitled ‘Messages’, it is a musical depiction of technology – specifically the sounds created by telegraph wires vibrating in the wind. With the first movement of Roxanna’s Memories of My Father having acted as an introduction the conversations begin, looking forward in a sense to Steve Reich’s Different Trains. The overheard dialogue ranges from very inward – the third section – to fraught discussions between cello and first violin. It ends – as do all telephone conversations – suspended in mid-air.
The Third String Quartet (1990) is shorter, and darker, revealing the effects of Panufnik’s incurable illness. Though brief it is an intense utterance. The penultimate section is a jagged countenance that works up to a furious outburst, before the closing pages restore calm if not peace.
Completing a packed disc is The Song to the Virgin Mary, a contemplative work for string sextet that restores the meditative thoughts of Modlitwa. It is a fitting conclusion to a memorial that acts as a touching and lasting document for the Panufnik centenary, sensitively realised by the six players and by Roxanna’s devotion to the music of her father.