The Anaklasis Series’ Reinterpretations of Polish Musical History
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From Zygmunt Krauze’s unique take on Chopin to Piotr Orzechowski’s interpretation of ‘Forefather’s Eve’, what gems can we find in the catalogue of Anaklasis Records?
In 2018, for the hundredth anniversary of Polish independence, the Polish Music Publishing House (PWM) released 36 CDs as part of its 100 for 100: Musical Decades of Freedom series. A total of 61 new recordings were made – the rest comes from the archives of Polish Records ‘Muse’ and Polish Radio. It turns out that this ambitious project was only the beginning of the publishing house’s phonographic output. In November 2019, PWM launched Anaklasis Records, for whom the Adam Mickiewicz Institute is a media patron.
Anaklasis (ἀνάκλασις) in Ancient Greek literally means ‘refraction of light’. In ancient poetry, it also referred to rhythmic feet modification, substituting long or stressed syllables for short and unstressed ones. Krzysztof Penderecki used the method in his 1959 composition Anaklasis, the inspiration behind the new project’s name. The head of PWM’s recording department Barbara Orzechowska-Berkowicz said in an interview with Ruch Muzyczny: ‘The word “anaklasis” – in and of itself – sounds to me very musical, sonorous, intriguing, like a spell…’.
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PWM’s Anaklasis Records focuses on Polish music in the 20th and 21st century, though they reach into the depths of the past as well. The catalogue has been divided into a series of releases: Sounds, Portraits, Heritage, Revisions, and Images. The albums are being made available on streaming services as well. And what are the first batch of albums from Anaklasis filling the sound waves?
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Sounds is a series presenting music through the lens of its interpreters and their instruments. The stars of the first album are the Fender Rhodes piano and compositions by Aleksander Nowak, Sławomir Kupczak, Marcin Stańczyk and Zygmunt Krauze. Behind the keys is Piotr Orzechowski, who in an interview with Culture.pl spoke of the possibilities of a piano that allows you to play everything from The Doors to Herb Hancock:
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A Rhodes behaves differently from other pianos in a few respects, especially when we begin playing sounds close to each other. It also produces different tones, which stimulate the listener and creator in different ways (…) Can the Rhodes help express something more than a regular piano? In certain ways, I think so.
In Naninana, Nowak – beginning with an anonymous Schrodinger-esque poem ‘Where, oh where / is that cat that is / and isn’t?’ – creates a composition about absence – about a lack of sounds, partial improvisation, disappearing melodies, and a lack of climax. In Pełnia, Kupczak creates flickering spots of instrumental-electronic sounds under which Orzechowski improvises on the Rhodes. In A Due, Stańczyk divides the orchestra into two parts. Next to these, the pianist sits down to a surprisingly small role. All of this is accompanied by soundscapes recorded by the composer – singing crickets, sounds of wind, the ocean’s hum. In Krauze’s Rondo, the varied form allows for a clash between the orchestra and the Rhodes. Orzechowski has free reign in improvising, though it is tightly controlled by the composer.
I had the opportunity to hear some of these compositions in 2017 during the Festiwal Prawykonań in Katowice. The perception of the music while listening live is a completely different experience, although it is worth highlighting the care with which the recordings were created that we can now listen to – there are plenty of details to pay attention to and the sound is well balanced. We can also hear the details of the composition and the composer’s intentions (except for the performative and visual elements in Stańczyk’s work – that would require a DVD recording).
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Fryderyk Chopin meets John Cage, and it’s all thanks to Zygmunt Krauze – appearing on this album as both creator and re-creator. What exactly is the titular bi-piano recital? Each of Chopin’s compositions (Polonaise in E flat minor, Op. 26 No. 2, Mazurka Op. 67 No. 4, Ballade No. 2 Op. 38, Nocturne Op. 55 No.2) is performed by Krauze on a normal piano, before he then sits down at a prepared piano constructed according to John Cage’s instructions, which the American composer notably used for Sonatas and Interludes. The album also presents us Krauze’s compositions (Sonte Music, Gloves Music) and those of Cage (Water Music). Cage’s composition is especially interesting here, as it links to Krauze’s own work through their mutual political stances. The dominating element in Krauze’s interpretation of Water Music is the changing radio waves flowing through a not-so-optimistic portrait of the world: commercials, a crowd of information, a conference dedicated to the toxic fuel lingering in sunken ships across the Baltic…
Marcin Masecki had recently attempted to move away from performances of Chopin, but Krauze has gone a step further. Orthodox lovers of Chopin may shudder at the ease with which Krauze treats the composer’s output. I believe there’s no reason to fear – this ease comes from a true love of the music and a desire to deepen one’s understanding of it.
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In December 1947, the conductor Grzegorz Fitelberg wrote to Stefan Spiess, a music lover and pre-war theatre patron as well as friend of Karol Szymanowski and other members of the music world: ‘I must study two new movements: Lutosławski’s symphonies and Palester’s serenades. It’s difficult and complicated. And one and the other are indisputable masters. Mature, playful musicians.’ Lutosławski’s compositions have since entered the world canon; his music can be found in concert halls across the globe. Roman Palester left Poland in the second half of the 1940s, still composing, but his work at Radio Free Europe took up most of his time. His music has almost completely disappeared from concert halls, though it is recently being discovered anew. In 2018, Polish Music Publishing House published a collection of letters as well as an incomplete autobiography titled Słuch Absolutny (Perfect Pitch); they also released a few albums showing some of Palester’s compositions, including Piano Music, played by Jakub Tchórzewski and a string quartet played by Apollon Musagète Quartett.
The album from Anaklasis shows off his early works. And what are the titular Concertinos? Palester considered them a modest, lighter form of concert. He created Saxophone Concertino after being charmed by Sigurd Raschèr’s virtuosic playing (though Raschèr never had an opportunity to perform the piece), while Harpsichord Concertino came from a collection of 16th-century dances by Joannis de Lublin. The album also lets us hear saxophonist Alina Mleczko, the young harpsichord player Maciej Skrzeczkowski, as well as Sinfonia Iuventus, all under the direction of Łukasz Borowicz.
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Maciej Zieliński is a versatile composer, one of a few who creates contemporary music as well as pop music, film and television scores and commercial music. He has worked with Kayah and Ania Dąbrowska; we can also hear it in films, series and commercials. Archipelag is also an album with plenty of wonderful soloists: Orchestra AUKSO and conductor Marek Moś are accompanied by Katarzyna Duda, Katarzyna Budnik, Klaudiusz Baran and Tomasz Strahl. They add a true vibrancy and life to Maciej Zieliński’s music.
The album includes compositions for the violin written over a decade (2006-2016) that are emotional and elaborate, carefully worked on so as to create complex textures. In Shining II, the composer has taken inspiration from optical phenomena, but it’s also easy to spot references to Kubrick’s The Shining, which was undergirded with Krzysztof Penderecki’s music. In the liner notes, Iwona Lindstedt notices the music’s similarity to Penderecki’s sonorism; she highlights, however, that this is not a typical album of the Polish brutalist avant-garde. Instead, we hear plenty of subtlety and ephemeral sounds that resemble a film soundtrack.
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Anaklasis focuses on the newest music, but it doesn’t forget about history. We can find not only 20th- and 21st-century composers in PWM’s catalogue, but also several other eras of Polish music. First up, on account of his recent anniversary, there’s the so-called father of Polish opera Stanisław Moniuszko. The recording of his music here comes from 1962, and is a priceless relic of Polish operatic performance. It has Zdzisław Górzyński conducting the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir.
This one-act opera takes place in a village. The protagonists: raftsman Franek (Bogdam Paprocki, a noteworthy lyric tenor) and the city-slicker Jakub (Andrzej Hiolski), who are fighting over Zosia (Halina Słonicka). Since Moniuszko’s time until today, this opera has continued to delight audiences, though critics note it is not on the same level as the more famous Halka. Will Moniuszko’s comic opera captivate music lovers once more? We’ll see.
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This three-album collection of Moniuszko’s music comes from the archive of Polish Records ‘Muse’ – a record label with music lovers in mind. Certainly, it must have been difficult to find Moniuszko compositions other than versions of Halka and The Haunted Manor, or a single release of a lesser-known work. During 2019’s Year of Moniuszko, record labels did their best to fill the gap, but work has been slow going.
The first album covers songs from Songbook for Home Use, which includes Maria Kunińska-Opacka’s singing with accompaniment by Jerzy Lefeld, as well as Andrzej Hiolski accompanied by Sergiusz Nadgryzowski. The second album includes arias and classic recordings of Halka, Flis and The Haunted Manor. The last album contains overtures.
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The series Revisions presents experiments, transgressions and sometimes revolutions. It includes less popular genres, such as electronica, jazz and improvisation. The first release was Dziady, inspired by the second half of Mickiewicz’s poetic drama of the same name (Forefather’s Eve in English). This version is for a quartet (here the High Definition Quartet) and also includes an esteemed collection of guests from the world of electronic music (from Krzysztof Knittel’s electro-acoustic improvisations and William Basinski, creator of one of the most celebrated albums of the 21st century, all the way to Igor Boxx, known for his work with Skalpel). Each track includes a short quote from Mickiewicz’s work, but we won’t hear any references to Slavic folklore in the music. Orzechowski interprets the epic as a psychological drama exploring contact between the human world and the world of ghosts. As he says: ‘The world of the living is improvisation, acoustic instruments; the world of ghosts is closed off, electronic’.
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Here we have an alternative history of Polish jazz. Kuba Stankiewicz’s album is a reinterpretation of Roman Statkowski’s opera Maria. Where did the idea to turn it into a jazz number come from? Stankiewicz, a pianist who debuted in the 1980s with Jan ‘Ptaszyn’ Wróblewski and Zbigniew Namysłowski, studied and played the music of Victor Young. Young was a pioneer of Hollywood music, working with big names like Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra – he even racked up 22 Oscar nominations, despite winning only once posthumously. He studied composition at the Warsaw Conservatory, from… Roman Statkowski, who he often cited as an influential teacher. Statkowski also taught Henryk Wars. From this we can gather that within Statkowski’s music there must be some hidden strain of jazz.
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In the last record on our list, cellist Andrzej Bauer, Cezary Duchnowski and Agata Zubel present fragments of Moniuszko’s Songbook for Home Use. Their interpretation is distant from the original, though they attempt to stay true to its spirit. Their new version is decidedly subversive, created with the intent to shock. There is still space for sensitive moments: sweet harmonies, a lyrical cello solo and clear singing voice, though these are crowded among hums, sputters, screeches and emotional shouts. I hope that their live performance schedule extends beyond philharmonics and concert halls. This work deserves to be heard at Poland’s popular music festivals OFF and Opener.
The year 2020 and the next phase of the project has brought a new angle entirely. The first titles released have been a collection of three DVDs from the Images series, containing recordings of operas and documentaries dedicated to their creators. The first artist highlighted is Agata Zubel – an opportunity to watch her opera Bildbeschreibung, performed by Klangforum Wien, as well as a filmic portrait titled Słowa Jak Dźwięki (Words like Sounds) directed by Jan Sosiński. The second DVD album features Aleksander Nowak and his opera Ahat Ilī, with the accompanying libretto written by Olga Tokarczuk. The third DVD is a recording of Andrzej Krzanowski’s Audycja V (Broadcast V) and the documentary Przerwana Podróz (Interrupted Journey).
Originally written in Polish, 4 December 2019, translated by Alicja Zapalska, 10 February 2020.
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