Antoni Wit’s Naxos Penderecki series is the most important current, long-term project devoted to a living composer on any label, both for the greatness of Penderecki’s work and the excellent conducting displayed herein. Other Penderecki recordings (including the composer’s) come and go at the whims of the major labels; Naxos’s are always available, and frequently the best. The latest release couples two of the greatest concertos of the past thirty years.
The Cello Concerto No. 2 was written in 1982 for Mstislav Rostropovich and, like him, is virtuosic and emotional. Penderecki had started out as an avant-gardist, then become a neo-Romantic; he combined those strains in this monumental work, which has one of the spookiest openings in the concerto literature, but is also chock full of imposing melodies, not least for the soloist. It’s impossible to beat Rostropovich, but Vassiljeva holds her own and sonically this recording is superior.
This is Zhislin’s second recording of the Viola Concerto, but the earlier one is out of print. It’s also a powerful work, contrasting light and heavy textures and sometimes using the orchestral sections antiphonally. The viola is heavily featured even by concerto standards, with a lot of stamina required, and Zhislin never falters.