Metasinfonia for solo organ, strings and timpani, 1978, 25'
Performers: Konzerthausorchester Berlin, Łukasz Borowicz - conductor; 2012 CPO/Deutschlandradio
The seventh symphony in Andrzej Panufnik’s catalogue is also his second – after the 1973 Sinfonia Concertante – concertante symphony, a kind of organ concerto. Entrusting the solo part to the organ stemmed from the fact that the composition was commissioned by the Manchester International Organ Festival for a virtuoso of this instrument, Geraint Jones. It was Jones who premiered Metasinfonia during the 1978 Festival, accompanied by the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer.
Metasinfonia, like the composer’s previous two symphonies – Sinfonia di Sfere and Sinfonia Mistica – stems directly from Panufnik’s fascination with geometry and shapes of geometric figures. In this case the formal structure of the work is based on a spiral. In his notes, the composer wrote:
Scoring the work as a rather dramatic duo between the solo organ and the timpani with string orchestra, in my imagination I was using a double helix as a ground plan, the first half of the symphony spiralling towards the centre, the second concentrically and symmetrically working its way outward again.
In addition, Panufnik pointed out that the spiral had once been regarded as a symbol of journeying into the depth of the human soul and that it contained a ‘chain of meditative thoughts and expressions’. These impressions are undoubtedly metaphysical, as indicated by the prefix ‘meta’ in the title of the symphony; however, according to the composer, the prefix has other meanings, too – it refers to ‘metachromatism’ (change of colour) and ‘metamorphosis’ (change of shape, gradual transformation).
From the very first bars a clash of the organ sound with the strings creates a mood full of anxiety, enhanced by the use of clusters in the organ part. In the central point of the symphony tension reaches a climax marked by an introduction of the timpani, accompanying from that moment the musical action, gradually calming and releasing the tension. The concertante nature of the symphony is emphasised by the introduction, towards the end of the work, of a virtuoso organ cadenza, but the dialectic tension between the sound layers as well as precision in the progression of the narrative make the work typically symphonic, a character enhanced by the work’s anxious or even dramatic expression.
Metasinfonia remains one of Andrzej Panufnik’s least known symphonies, but it testifies not only to the composer’s attention to clear structure, refined down to the smallest detail, but also his colour sophistication.