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12.11.06

Seven Gates of Jerusalem

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Penderecki, Symphony No. 7: Seven Gates of Jerusalem, Warsaw National Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, Antoni Wit(released on October 31, 2006)
Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki made his name in the 1960s with music in experimental styles, most famously the Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. Since then, he has angered some of his modernist colleagues by turning away from atonality to return to more traditional structures in his compositions. When Penderecki was honored this past spring at the Présences Festival in Paris, he had the entire cycle of his completed symphonies performed over two weeks. The critics were not kind about his neo-Romantic works. This disc is a new recording of the choral work that Penderecki has called his seventh symphony, Seven Gates of Jerusalem. It was composed in 1996, for the third millennium of the city of Jerusalem.

Krzysztof PendereckiAs Dr. Ronit Seter explained in a paper ("BBC's 1997 Broadcast of Penderecki's Seven Gates of Jerusalem: A Case of Recomposition?") given at the Capital Chapter meeting of the American Musicological Society in 2004, the BBC broadcast version of the piece's premiere was a significant recontextualization of the work. The producer of the program, Antony Pitts, interspersed sections of Seven Gates with mini-documentary segments on the history of Jerusalem. Dr. Seter contends the following: "Despite the composer's seeming cultural openness in interviews I conducted with him in Jerusalem, Seven Gates of Jerusalem is Penderecki's rendering of a decidedly Christian -- not Jewish, not Muslim -- Jerusalem, just as the city was traditionally stereotyped (and orientalized) in Western church music."

Certainly, as a Pole, Penderecki relies naturally on a Catholic background, and the words his chorus and soloists sing are the Latin Vulgate translations of the Psalms and books of the Prophets. Only in the sixth movement, Facta es super me manus Domini, does the language of Latin give way to Hebrew (Ezekiel 37), in a part for speaker. Even so, the music that seems to be referenced quite often, if not actually quoted, in the rather plain melodic lines is the psalm tones of Gregorian chant. The first movement is a slow, solemn invocation of the foundation of Jerusalem: "Great is the Lord, and exceedingly to be praised in the city of our God, in his holy mountain" (texts from Psalm 48 (47) and Psalm 96 (95)). In the second movement, one of the soprano soloists (Aga Mikołaj) leads a memorial to Jerusalem, kept in sacred memory even during the captivity in Babylon: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten. Let my tongue cleave to my jaws, if I do not remember thee: If I make not Jerusalem the beginning of my joy" (from Super flumina Babylonis, Psalm 137 (136)).

Other Recording:
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Warsaw Philharmonic: Live (2000)
The third movement seems to be the odd man out. Its text has nothing to do with Jerusalem as the other movements: "Out of the depths I have cried to thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice. Let thy ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication" (from De Profundis, Psalm 130 (129)). It's a fairly hopeful psalm, but it has inspired more than a few creepy settings. While much of the score of Seven Gates sounds tonal enough to be a mainstream film score, this text inspires Penderecki toward more varied colors, with more dissonances and wailing glissando effects in the voices. The longest movement is the fifth, Lauda Jerusalem: "Praise the Lord, Jerusalem" (from Psalm 147). This movement is punctuated with some fun passages for rumbling percussion, but much of it could easily be the soundtrack of the Omen movie remake. The sixth movement, with Hebrew speaker, recalls Schoenberg's cantata A Survivor in Warsaw too closely at times.

This performance, made in Warsaw Philharmonic Hall in 2003, is good, if not outstanding. Any time you have a large chorus like this, intonation is going to be sketchy, and there are some sonorities, especially open fifths, that never quite lock into place. However, at around $10, this disc costs less than half its only other competition, a 2000 recording by the Warsaw Philharmonic.

Naxos 8.557766

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