Concertino for timpani, percussion, and strings
Concertino for Timpani, Percussion and Strings is the second work – after Concerto Festivo – composed by Panufnik on commission from the London Symphony Orchestra. The commission was closely linked to a competition for young performers organized by the LSO in collaboration with Shell Oil. In its final stage, young musicians were to perform solo instrumental concertos accompanied by the LSO, and each year winners were selected in a different instrumental section. In 1980, it was the turn of percussionists 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 Concertino of the title indicates on the one hand the piece’s brevity – it lasts about 15 minutes – and limited scoring (the percussionists are accompanied only by strings), and on the other is associated with matching the difficulty of the piece to the skills of 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 devoid of virtuoso or showy accents (evident primarily in Fine); yet it is dominated by an aura of reflection and nostalgia, highlighted distinctly by the use of percussion instruments, for example tubular bells (in Entrata), and by a homogeneous, warm sound from the strings (especially in Canto I and II).The composer admitted that when he was writing Concertino, he was returning to the time in 1932 when he was resuming his musical education in the percussion class of the Warsaw Conservatory. Many years had passed since then and Panufnik had composed many works showing again and again that he was brilliantly able to use his experiences from those percussion lessons. Undoubtedly, percussion instruments had remained an important part of the orchestra for him, a part that could significantly enhance the orchestra's expressive possibilities – which is also confirmed by the alluring Concertino.