MEYER: Piano Concerto.* Symphony No. 6, “Polish Symphony” / *Pavel Gililov, pianist; Great Polish Radio & Television Symphony Orch. of Katowice; Antoni Wit, conductor / Dux 1898
Here is a recording of works by 79-year-old Krzysztof Meyer conducted by 78-year-old Antoni Wit. I don’t know enough about the Polish classical music scene to know whether or not Wit is the “dean” of Polish conductors, but he’s certainly been around a long while and his recordings of works by Szymanowski, Górecki and other composers are often considered benchmarks in those works.
Meyer writes in a style that uses Eastern modes and modern rhythms. You might almost call him a modern-day Szymanowski except that, with his stronger rhythms and more brilliant orchestration, his scores do not have the exotic Impressionist feeling of his predecessor. After a slow, mysterious opening, the piano concerto’s first movement reels headlong through a number of short-breathed, almost fragmented motifs and themes before receding in both volume and pace for an equally eerie middle section. The piano soloist does not play virtuoso showcase music, but rather fits into the overall fabric of the music as just another part, but this, too is fascinating to hear. It is almost as if the piano were another section of the orchestra for Meyer to play against with the others. There’s a touch of George Antheil about this music that intrigued me, and Meyer varies his music so much that you never lose interest in what’s going on.
The second movement sounds like a play on a short rhythmic theme which starts in the high winds, moves around the orchestra a bit, and then disappears to allow a second, faster, quirkier theme to take hold. Once again, the piano acts as commentator and interlocutor rather than providing musical “answers” to the mysterious goings-on around it. At the three-minute mark, the orchestra plays some “ta-daa!” type chords, signifying that things are wrapping up, but they’re not! On the contrary, the pianist suddenly emerges playing a swinging, jazz-based solo before the movement ends in earnest.
The third movement is the slow one, played mostly by soft strings with, again, a mysterious feeling about it. The last movement begins with loud, sharply-attacked open F chords which launch a scurrying theme which the piano gobbles up and carries on its back for some time. This movement, too, has a whiff of Antheil about it. Eventually, however, it becomes a riot of loud, fast running motifs in minor modes, something like a modern version of Berlioz’ “Witches’ Sabbath” from the Symphonie Fantastique.
Meyer’s Sixth Symphony, which he dedicated to conductor Antoni Wit, was written in 1981 “under the impression of the declaration of martial law in Poland.” He also used “well-known Polish songs in all movements except the second,” but none of these were Polish songs that I heard as a child. (My grandparents came from Poland and my father spoke Polish.) The first movement is almost like a funeral dirge, using slow, sad, broken melodies, later interspersed with fast minor-key flurries from the violins and interjections by muted trumpets. Later on, however, there is a ferocious, almost savage break-out by the orchestra, with sharp flute and piccolo motifs stabbing through the massed sound of the other sections.
The fast and relatively short (7:07) second movement opens with scurrying, out-of-tonality violin figures with interjections by the flutes and other strings, but there is nothing jolly about this music. At about the halfway mark, the volume increases as the trumpets have their say as a section, followed by more scurrying (this time much more aggressively) by the strings, winds and brass, including trombones and tuba. The tone of the slow third movement is set by plodding pizzicato from mid-range violins and violas while a clarinet, backed by percussion (mostly chimes), plays a strange, amorphous theme. This movement, too, eventually explodes in a riot of massed sound, with the snare drum playing a melancholy funeral beat behind it. The final movement opens up as a mad, headlong rush through ungraspable, amorphic themes, but then turns into a “Funebre” section to its conclusion.
What a fascinating CD! For me, this was an introduction to Meyer’s music, and you can bet that I’ll be investigating more of it.
—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley
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