A new survey of Penderecki’s quartets gives plenty of thrills

Meccore Quartet: Penderecki

The Strad Issue: August 2023

Description: A new survey of Penderecki’s quartets gives plenty of thrills

Musicians: Meccore Quartet, Jan Jakub Bokun (clarinet)

Works: Penderecki: Strings Quartets nos.1–4; The Interrupted Thought; Clarinet Quartet; String Trio

Catalogue number: Capriccio C 5493

From wild child of the experimental avant-garde to luscious neo-Romantic, Krzysztof Penderecki had an unusually profound stylistic transformation across his career. When his string quartets neatly encapsulate that trajectory, written as they were between 1960 and 2016, it’s no mean feat to pull off the entire cycle in consistently convincing and compelling fashion. Yet, that is what the Meccore Quartet has done here.

The Interrupted Thought (1988) is a strong opener – not just a rich-toned, lyrically voiced snapshot of Penderecki in Romantic-leaning Second Viennese School mode, but a potent showcase for the Meccore’s emotive approach. Penderecki is arguably at his most brilliant and distinctive in the first two string quartets. The First’s barless blizzard of rapid percussive effects is served up in high definition with a huge dynamic range, vividly caught by the engineering. The Second, with its microtonal drones, barks, buzzings, scurryings, whispers and shouts, demands absolutely taut ensemble, virtuosity, a vast colouristic range, rhythmic impetus and deep expression, all of which it receives. If anyone needs convincing that Penderecki’s most violently brutalist phase was also beautiful, here is the proof. Add the String Trio and Clarinet Quartet – Jan Jakub Bokun thoroughly fused into the ensemble dynamic – and this may be a new benchmark.