Concertino for Timpani, Percussion and Strings 1980 (rev. 1988), 15'
solo perc (2): timp/glsp/xyl/vib/t.bells/3tgl/3susp.cym/conga dr(sm) (tamburo picc)/conga dr(lg)(SD)/2tom-t(lg)(TD)/BD(sm) - strings
Performers: London Symphony Orchestra, Andrzej Panufnik - conductor; 1989 UNICORN-KANCHANA
Concertino for Timpani, Percussion and Strings is the second – after Concerto Festivo – work composed by Andrzej Panufnik following a commission from the London Symphony Orchestra. The commission was closely linked to a competition for young performers organised by the LSO in collaboration with Shell Oil. In its final stage young musicians were to perform solo instrumental concertos accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra. In 1980 it was the turn of the percussionists (every year the winners were selected in a different instrumental section) and it was suggested to Panufnik that the new composition include percussion instruments in its solo parts.
As a result Panufnik wrote his Concertino for Timpani, Percussion and Strings. The name Concertino on the one hand indicates the piece’s brevity – it lasts about 15 min. – and limited scoring (the percussionists are accompanied only by the strings), and on the other is associated with matching the difficulty of the piece to the skills of the young, though already fully professional, soloists, one of whom performs the timpani part, while the other plays the remaining percussion instruments.
Concertino consists of five short movements following one another attaca. They are: Entrata, Canto I, Intermezzo, Canto II and Fine. The composer approached the work in an unconventional manner, treating the solo instruments in a way that was far from obvious, which he explained as follows:
In this work I wanted to take a fresh look at percussion and to emphasise especially the expressive, even the singing quality of the instruments: hence the title 'song' for two of the movements. Rather than presenting conventional technical challenges or producing a variety of new gimmicks, my intention was to compose a test of true musicianship: to demonstrate quality of sound, precision and above all an understanding of the musical content of the work, its poetic element.
This does not mean, however, that the Concertino is totally devoid of virtuoso or showy accents (evident primarily in Fine); yet it is dominated by an aura of reflection and nostalgia, perfectly highlighted by the use of percussion instruments, for example tubular bells (Entrata), and by a homogeneous, warm sound of the strings (especially in Canto I and II).
The composer admitted that when he was writing Concertino, he was returning to the time when in 1932 he was beginning his musical education in the percussion class of the Warsaw Conservatory. Many years had passed since and Panufnik had composed many works, showing again and again that he was able to brilliantly use his experiences from his percussion lessons. Undoubtedly, the percussion instruments remained for him an important part of the orchestra, a part that could significantly enhance its expressive possibilities – which is also confirmed by the alluring Concertino.
The first performance of Concertino took place on 24 January 1981 in London. The soloists were Nigel Thomas and Geoffrey Prentice, accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn.