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Capriccio per Siegfried Palm 1968


Krzvstof Penderecki has been a centre of international attention since his first works were received in a mixture of awe and notoriety in 1959. Radical instrumental techniques and massed tone clusters helped articulate his primary concept during the Fifties and Sixties — the boundary between tone and noise. His future was assured with the presentation of the ground breaking work Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima written for the Donaueschingen Festival (an event notable for premiering much music by Xenakis). Formal clarity and an intense, obsessive expressiveness give Penderecki’s music a visceral appeal — his music is more accessible than the chaos of chance music, the incomprehensibility of stochasticism, or the “impersonal machinations” of serialism. His music might be difficult, but it isn’t impenetrable, and it appeals to popular audiences as well as to academic. More importantly, it doesn’t require long explanatory preparation before comprehension begins...

German cellist Sieqfried Palm has exerted huge influence over the cello and the approach we use to play it in the 20th century. At the forefront of the avant-garde movement Mr. Palm worked with many different composers and was enormously successful at developing new techniques to perform their music. It seems that for the Capriccio Mr. Penderecki attempted to include every known effect and add a few more to create a bizarre spectacle of sound and activity. The piece develops as an insane discourse between loud and soft voices with occasional (and I think obvious) interjections from a voice of reason.

I learned the Capriccio, in anticipation of Mr. Penderecki’s visit to the Banff Centre in the late 1980’s. Unfortunately at the last minute he was unable to come but at least I had discovered the joys of this intriguing and whimsical work. Since then I have performed it on numerous occasions for a wide variety of audiences and have met with a variety of reactions but it is always a delight to play. There is tremendous humour in the piece so it is a bit of a shame that a recording allows the listener only the aural results of the endeavor — you miss the somewhat theatrical element of the performance. However, the huge diversity of sounds that can be made on and by the cello should keep you interested.

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