It's about time that the British government (or at least the BBC) recognised the role of Poles in British life. There are more Polish people in this country than any other foreign group. The economy would collapse without them. So it's good that this year's BBC Proms should acknowledge Polish music and even the Pole by adoption, Nigel Kennedy. But how little most of us really know about Poland and Polish culture! So do listen to the re broadcast of Prom 55 IN FULL. The discussions are exceptionally informative and intelligent, and some of it is entirely new. Listen to Roxanna Panufnik speak about her father (pictured here with Lutosławski, his great friend). She's refreshing because she's a musician and composer in her own right and more importantly, came to her father's music late. It's perfectly normal for people connected to some historic figure to deify them, but hagiography inhibits real appreciation. Roxanna Panufnik's good because she's objective (as far as possible) and Nicholas Raymond helps fill in the Polish cultural context.
Listen especially to Andrezj Panufnik's Tragic Overture.(1942) and his Lullaby (1947 rev 1955). At 7 minutes, the Tragic Overture is compressed but very intense. Quiet rumbling. Then the music rushes ferociously forward, whipped along by short blasts of brass and percussion and wailing, grotesquely deflating trombones. An implicit programme is embedded, based on snippets from anti-Nazi songs Panufnik wrote in secret. Lullaby is even more innovative. It was first written while Panufnik was conducting in London, and was inspired by the sight of the moon, the "same moon shining over Poland, far away". Ethereal strings sing a sad tune, interspersed with single, twinkling notes against the long line. Yet listen to that legato, mysteriously "smeared" with half tones and strange textures. Not a soothing lullaby. It dissolves in a coda at once elusive, sinister and magical.
Panufnik, incidentally, helped found the Warsaw Philharmonic, so it felt right that we should hear this orchestra play his music at this high profile Prom, with Antoni Wit, who's stepping down as Music Director after over 10 years. Perhaps the BBC wanted to add Shostakovich to the programme to broaden its appeal and "paint a vivid picture of two nations in parallel periods of anxiety", but Lutosławski and Panufnik are plenty interesting in their own right, and hardly "unknown". Wit and the Warsawers did a superb Szymanowski Third last year,. That would have required choir and soloist, but surely there might have been other Szymanowski to choose from?