Dusted Reviews

Krzysztof Penderecki and Jonny Greenwood - Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima / Popcorn Superhet Receiver / Polymorphia / 48 Responses to Polymorphia

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Krzysztof Penderecki and Jonny Greenwood

Album: Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima / Popcorn Superhet Receiver / Polymorphia / 48 Responses to Polymorphia

Label: Nonesuch

Review date: Apr. 6, 2012

It used to be all musicians wanted to be actors. Be it Bowie in features, Method Man on a premium cable show, or just Dudley Moore himself, only a select few have truly succeeded. More often than not, of course, they’ve failed miserably (i.e. too many to list here). As for the actor-cum-musician, well, we all know how well that’s played out.

Nowadays, though, it seems like every musician fancies himself a composer. Hell, last week alone, everyone from Damon Albarn, to Portishead’s Geoff Barrow to Genesis keymaster Tony Banks announced sketches for a new “composition.” And here at home, the babies’ breath couldn’t be more baited for composter Julia Holter’s next musical move. Aside from a handful of works (cf. too few worth printing), historically, such vanity pieces haven’t been worth the staff paper a ghost orchestrator was paid to copy on. A tone poem from Elvis Costello? Yeah, no thanks. An oratorio by Sir Paul? You must be joking. A book of Billy Joel pianoforte preludes? Not in this lifetime, bub. It’s not just the fogey rockers either. Indie rock’s leveled sieve has let a lot of shit sift through, too. Every week, The National’s Bryce Dessner is busy curating a newer new music festival. Every day, Nico Muhly has to put aside his Phil Glass parts, hop on the L train and rush in to help realize some longhair’s harebrained delusion. It’s called “art music” for a reason, Williamsburg.

To be fair, Radiohead has long since struck any real indie pose. And fairer yet, Jonny Greenwood’s miniatures here — aphoristic afterwards, really — are actually quite good. I’ve heard his Popcorn Superhet Receiver (re-tooled cues from P.T. Anderson’s There Will Be Blood, those are) played by a per-service orchestra in a right-to-work state, and it was still fantastic. Ever since the opening of “Idioteque” from Y2K’s Kid A — which Jonny gleaned from the punch card synthesis of Princeton composer Paul Lansky’s mild und leise — I knew Colin’s younger bro was serious about his overtures. (How Jonny acquired the severely limited Odyssey LP Electronic Music Winners on which Lansky’s piece debuts remains a mystery.)

That said, sandwiched between two of the most towering works of its kind, Greenwood’s massed strings can’t help but transmit a tad cheeky. Obviously, Krzysztof Penderecki is the better composer proper; it does no favor for Jonny Greenwood’s pieces to be heard alongside the warhorses that inspired them — even for continuity’s sake. To wit, other than in the classroom, there’d be no need to hear Penderecki’s Polymorphia (1961) prefaced by Iannis Xenakis’ Metastasis (1953-54).

Speaking of teaching, much has been lectured on the glorious C major chord that closes Polymorphia. In fact, Greenwood uses this very sonority as the starting point for his own 48 Responses to Polymorphia, scored exactly the same as its forebear. Unlike Penderecki’s Threnody, however, the extra-musical implications in this gesture are all yours to make. (N.B. Infamously, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima was first titled 8:37.) In reality, now, I no longer hear anything in Penderecki’s final chord other than a simple, C major triad. Then again, maybe that’s because I knew it was coming.

Despite the fact that Penderecki himself is conducting a Polish orchestra here, it’s similarly hard to hear this entire recording as something definitive. With each subsequent listen, I only felt more like I had heard this one before. Like a lot of the post-War l’enfant terribles, yes, even Krzysztof Penderecki has mellowed into his twilight. Likewise, neither rendition of Threnody or Polymorphia seemed to teem with the tumult of earlier outings. Ultimately, I think it’s because Penderecki’s plight hasn’t changed at all — even in the time of Radiohead. The modern symphony orchestra remains a museum entity conceived in the 19th century, with 19th century sound sources, all stifled under the auspice of 19th-century pretense. Why anyone in 2012 would want to “compose” for it is beyond me.

By Logan K. Young

Read More

View all articles by Logan K. Young

Find out more about Nonesuch

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.