The Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) is not unknown but neither is he well-known. For the Warsaw-born son of a string instrument maker and of a "talented violinist, pianist and composer of English extraction" this dichotomy is on the one hand positive but for him and his work it is not exactly pleasant. Panufnik survived the terrible period of German occupation, and took part in the resistance, together with his friend Lutoslawski. They gave underground concerts to raise money for the fighters and of course also for Jewish artists. Four Underground Resistance Songs are evidence of these hazardous activities as well as of the composer's skills.
The English pianist Clare Hammond is to be thanked for devoting herself to Panufnik's piano works, not only in the context of his 100th birthday but also by convincingly portraying the radius of his expression with her clever and spontaneously effective, technically agile approach. The Twelve Miniature Studies of 1947, which were revised in 1955 and 1964, are not only played at the beginning of this selection of works, but they are in my opinion - at least within the framework of this collection - of central importance. These twelve miniatures were drafted after a 5-year break spent composing within traditional tonality. The first study is in C sharp (major-minor), the second a fifth below in F sharp, the third in B and so on. Consequently this collection was to be called Circle of Fifths, but Panufnik decided on the name Studies. These small pieces, sometimes just about approaching 3 minutes, are averagely difficult - as far as I dare judge without the music - and would give a skilled amateur considerable problems but would hardly cause the fingers of a professional player, practised in dealing with "today's" music, to break sweat.
Not only is the arrangement of keys in these Bonsai studies novel, but also the scheme of dynamic contrasts. A sempre fortissimo is always followed by a sempre pianissimo whereby the required loud and soft volumes are supplemented by a further instruction. The full instruction for Study no. 5 for example, is: "sempre fortissimo e molto agitato". Only the final Study no.12 appears more flexible and thus less stable of expression. In this instance the pianist is requested to proceed " Pianissimo e crescendo poco a poco il fortissimo", whereby it is presumably clear to the listener that Panufnik wishes to pull together the sum of everything which has been practised and learnt.
These miniatures can be rewarding to listen to, they are varied, not only in their differing structures but also from the point of view of their technical and melodic inventiveness. It would not be a waste of time to occupy oneself with them. But the other pieces played here - Reflections (1968) and Pentasonata (1984) are more of a problem, the latter lasts 13 minutes and feels lukewarm. Here it becomes clear how much more formative and thus more memorable the works of Lutoslawski and even Penderecki were, and have remained so to this day.
Also on the CD is Andrzej Panufnik's daughter Roxanna, who gently takes part, creatively and discreetly as a craftswoman completing another's work. She arranged numbers 1,4 and 5 of the five Vocalises for soprano and piano, as Hommage to Chopin for piano alone. And she completed a late song-prayer of her father's (Modlitwa) and arranged it in 2013 for piano.
Finally Clare Hammond plays 2 original compositions by the Panufnik daughter - a nice encore and addition to complete a family portrait, no more, but also no less…
If one would like to become better acquainted with Andrzej Panufnik's personality, a collection by Naxos with the Polnisches Kammerorchester conducted by Smolij Mariusz can be recommended (8.570032). It contains amongst other things the Old Polish Suite for strings, a Concerto in Modo antico and Five Pieces for Flute and Strings, also entitled Hommage à Chopin.