Krzysztof Penderecki is not primarily a pronunciation exercise for students of Polish, though his name could certainly perform that function very well, but also of a somewhat overlooked composer. Once described by The Guardian as “Poland’s greatest living composer” Penderecki is certainly, if you’re into a certain type of modern classical music, great. To the general public, his music is perhaps mostly known from a long range of movies – The Shining, The Exorcist, Shutter Island and Wild at heart, to name a few. Kosmogonia was originally released on vinyl in 1974, and fortune and good times have made it so that Cold Spring now has received the opportunity to release it anew for the first time in four decades. Remastered by Denis Blackham and Martin Bowes, the recording begins its second lease on life on 6-panel digipak CD.
Obviously, to review something like this “properly” – as classical music with a strong modernist streak – one would need a greater theoretical framework than that possessed by overly eclectic dilettantes such as yours truly. Luckily, Kosmogonia is perfectly possible to understand as an atmospheric album with some rather extreme tendencies, which greatly reduces any need for describing the exact harmonies and musical innovations that hide within the compositions. Indeed the third track – “De Natura Sonoris No. 2” – was featured on the score of the aforementioned The Shining. Dissonant brass assaults, strange melody snippets and an overall unpleasant atmosphere pervades the track, though it also has some more traditional musical elements. It’s easy to see the function it serves in a horror film, but not immediately attractive for personal listening. The superbly weird “Anaklis” is similar in vein, but somehow more enjoyable. The almost tribal percussion, the string abuse, the ominous orchestral noise attacks – losing any trace of consistency and principle, I find it quite entrancing.
The by far most impressive composition of the four featured on the album is the title track. “Kosmogonia” is almost 19 minutes long, and every minute counts. The complex and non-conventional use of orchestral instrumentation, operatic vocals and choirs here meld with strange sounds that aren’t readily identifiable at all, and as the track switches between rather traditional harmonies, ominous build-ups and bursts of dissonant chaos, things really happen in your head. This may, as the title implies, be a decent musical approximation of Creation as understood by the human mind. The closing track, also very long, is called “Fluorescences” and achieves a similar mood with different means, but while this is also an impressive work it doesn’t quite reach the heights of “Kosmogonia”. Actually, at times it does, but not as consistently.
If you’re into experimental music, classical music, or preferably both, there’s really no excuse not to check this out. Excerpts are available on the album’s page in the Cold Spring store, from whence the album can also be purchased.