Penderecki is undoubtedly best known for his “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima,” written in 1960 for 52 strings. I first heard it some 25 years ago, on an LP called “The New Music” with the Rome Symphony Orchestra conducted by Bruno Maderna.
In this version, the composer and the Polish Radio Orchestra do equally well reproducing the eerie palette that gives “Threnody” such power. The score is filled with effects that were considered experimental at the time, such as tone clusters: imagine each of the 52 musicians playing a different note, creating a “cloud” or “wall” of sound – no discernible melody, but considerable emotional impact. One might imagine being surrounded by radioactive dust. Later sections of the piece sound like agonized screams, with the violins making piercing, shrieking sounds at the highest registers of their instruments, or frightening glissandi that sound like air raid sirens. This is not music for a languid Sunday morning.
The other works on this excellent collection are equally striking, and similar in style to the “Threnody.” All told, a fine collection of early work from one of the world’s most unusual composers
Krzysztof Penderecki-MATRIX 5 (1994 compilation)