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Early Works (Abel Korzeniowski)

March 19, 2016


Abel Korzeniowski, 2016, Caldera Records
2CD, 32 tracks, 1:47:59

Caldera records presents a most interesting compilation of early works by Abel Korzeniowski. Whether you’re new to his music, or a long-standing fan, this album is sure to offer a unique insight into the composer’s early years.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

Before Abel Korzeniowski he rose to fame with scores like “Romeo & Juliet” and “Penny Dreadful“, the Polish born musician wrote several compositions for stage plays in his home country. Among them were “I Served the King of England” (2003), “The Odyssey” (2005), “Kafka” (2001), “Antigone” (1996) and “The Tempest” (2003) which celebrate their premiere release on this set. The works presented here show the wide variety of styles Korzeniowski applies due to his incredible talent.

What does it sound like?

“I Served the King of England” (CD1, 1-5) – Hammered dulcimer and accordion are the key ingredients to this work. And don’t take my word for it; the composer himself says so! The accordion features dominantly in all five tracks and gives the score a distinct Easter European flavour, typically with a solemn, bittersweet atmosphere; though the opening cue “Danube River” is a fast-paced, hypnotic (almost Trance-like) cue. Piano, violin and a couple of wind instruments also feature sporadically throughout this score.

“The Odyssey” (CD1, 6-14) – Based on the epic poem by Homer, Korzeniowski wrote a score that recalls ancient Greek. In the liner notes, he explains how he took inspiration from traditional Greek music, though took some artistic liberties as well. The score utilises a flute a lot, as well as a bizarre instrument called a ‘zink’, which Korzeniowski describes as a wooden trumpet. It certainly adds an ‘old’ ambiance to the music. I think I personally may have been conditioned to associate the flute with the Middle Ages, so to me the music sounds more medieval than Greek, but the bottom line is that it sounds like it comes from another time. Percussion and guitar-like instruments add a sense of urgency to some of the cues, whilst others have a mysterious, meandering character.

“Kafka” (CD2, 1-4) – The booklet notes that Korzeniowski was allowed to create something ‘totally absurd’ and that really shines through in “Dance Obscene” with it’s hectic, cartoon-y style. The other three cues are of a calmer, but still uneasy nature featuring the lamentful tones of the accordion and saxophone, alongside razor-sharp, short-noted piano parts.

“Antigone” (CD2, 5-8) – “Antigone” is an Ancient Greek play about a girl who must choose between the law of the Kings and the law of the Gods. She makes questionable decisions and must face the wrath of her uncle who is out to punish her for her actions. Korzeniowski newly recorded these four cues, as the original performance wasn’t preserved. The four cues represent four stages in Antigone’s anguish; and all four are performed solely by a choir singing in Greek. The words of the choir frequently condemn Antigone’s actions, which may explain the uncomfortable, almost horror-like nature of the performance. I’m tempted to say it sits somewhere between Jerry Goldsmith’s “The Omen” and James Horner’s “Apocalypto” and maybe even Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Requiem”,  in terms of intensity and aggression. The composer cleverly splits his choir into several groups (allowing for harmonies and depth), some are chanting rhythmically, others are providing sustained harmonies. It’s very uneasy, but totally fascinating.

“The Tempest” (CD2, 9-18) – The album concludes with Korzeniowski’s music for Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”. Performed by a small orchestral ensemble, including choir, it is arguably the most accessible score represented on these two discs; though it’s still ‘experimental’ in places. “Song of Light” is particularly pretty which its children’s choir providing a sort-of undulating background. Elsewhere the choir is more unsettled, as you might expect from a story about a sorcerer. Strings, cello and guitar give the music a medieval character.

As a bonus, Caldera included an exclusive interview with the composer where he talks about his work. Due to the length of the interview, it is not included on the actual CD but can be downloaded via a link provided in the booklet. Furthermore, they printed examples of the written score for “Antigone” in the booklet. The 13th CD-release of Caldera Records features a detailed notes by Gergely Hubai and artwork by Luis Miguel Rojas. The CD was produced by Stephan Eicke and John Elborg.

Is it any good?

Caldera have compiled and released a most interesting album that explores Abel Korzeniowski’s earlier works for the stage. It’s a fascinating, not always easy but certainly rewarding exploration of the composer’s music. When I listen to Korzeniowski’s film scores, he strikes me as a very refined, perhaps minimalistic or even a sparse composer – he never seems tempted to use any more instruments than is necessary; and his music is never any bigger than it needs to be. That trait seems to originate in these early works, all performed by fairly small ensembles, often relying heavily on one or two key instruments. That sort of precision and sparseness may not be to everyone’s taste. And whilst cinema and theatre largely perform a similar function (i.e.. they tell stories), there are differences in how they do that. As for the music, it’s my belief that music for theatre is somewhat less ‘obvious’ than a film score. Away from the play, it may require a little more effort from the listener to hear the story unfold in the music. In other words: Korzeniowski’s “Early Works” has probably more in common with contemporary concert music than with, what you might call, traditional film scoring. Caldera’s booklet is most helpful in providing some details about the stories, and allowing the composer to add a few comments about the music. It’s a wonderful package that is absolutely worth exploring.

Rating [4/5]


CD 1
I Served the King of England
01. Danube River (3:32)
02. Dumka (4:29)
03. Tango (3:49)
04. Cenacle (3:39)
05. Slava (5:11)

The Odyssey
06. Odysseus’ Theme (4:17)
07. Athena (1:36)
08. Circe (5:33)
09. Maenads (3:34)
10. The Cows of Helios (1:44)
11. Penelope’s Theme (1:27)
12. Sirens (2:12)
13. Orgy (2:10)
14. The Trojans (5:27)

CD 2
01. Memoirs (4:17)
02. Dance Obscene (3:05)
03. Amalia (3:15)
04. Intermezzo (2:53)

05. Stasimon I (4:06)
06: Stasimon II (5:34)
07. Stasimon III (3:02)
08. Stasimon V (5:09)

The Tempest
09. Song of Time (3:42)
10. Dance of Tempest (2:07)
11. Arliel’s Dance (3:16)
12. Ding-Dong (3:46)
13. Ariel’s Tears (3:59)
14. Song of Light (2:07)
15. Dance of Fertility (2:37)
16. Dance of Love (1:18)
17. Love Theme (0:29)
18. Song of Time II (3:45)

19. Interview with Abel Korzeniowski (22:04)

For more information, visit Caldera’s website.

Review (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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