Panufnik’s Piano Concerto has had a long and interesting history. It has been accepted that the original version of the work is a two-movement work, because for years the concerto indeed functioned as a composition comprising two parts, the contemplative Molto tranquillo and the virtuoso Molto agitato. The Piano Concerto received its current three-part form only in the mid-1980s, when the composer added the introductory Entrata.
Yet the first version of the work, on which Panufnik was already at work in the late 1950s, did consist of three parts – a surviving manuscript version marked London, 1957, is divided classically into three movements: Allegro non troppo (quasi sonata), Adagio (quasi dialogo) and Allegro molto (quasi rondo ostinato). However, this original version was changed even before the premiere in 1962 – the composer made cuts to all the movements and changed their names but maintained the traditional three-part model. This version, completed in 1962, with movements named Fantasia, Larghetto meditativo and Ostinato, also includes a dedication to Madame Rosa Berenbau as well as information about the date and venue of the premiere: Birmingham, 25 January 1962. Thus, the first part of this version – Fantasia – must have been removed by the composer after the premiere, as it is absent from the version dated 1972, which has two movements: Molto tranquillo and Molto agitato. About this version of his Piano Concerto Panufnik wrote:
My purpose was to compose a virtuoso work for the pianist which would give him the chance to demonstrate his capacity for poetic expression as well as his technical skill and bravura. I wanted also to exploit and explore the sonoric range of the piano, from sustained, singing notes to very dry, percussive sounds. In addition, I wanted to make the orchestra's participation one of real significance, with a powerful role to play. The Concerto has two movements: Molto tranquillo (very slow) and Molto agitato (very fast) – each of which imposes upon the performer and listener a definite climate and character.
The first movement is an extremely quiet, contemplative dialogue between soloist and orchestra (while within the orchestra there is a further dialogue between the wind instruments and the strings). I made constant use of the palindromic form creating a kind of lyrical geometry in order to emphasise meditative and reflective feelings. As regards the musical material, I imposed upon myself a strict discipline, this movement being based on the intervals of one minor and one major second as a 'basic sound' within the framework of the mirror construction.
The second movement follows attacca, with a violent outburst from the orchestra. This movement again is based on only two intervals: this time a major third and minor third. By the persistent repetition of these intervals, I wanted to create an urgent sense of agitation, even turbulence. However, the middle section of this movement is in contrast quite lyrical in character and based on the material of the first movement (minor and major seconds), in order to achieve some unity and firm binding together of these two deeply contrasted blocks: Molto tranquillo and Molto agitato.
However, the composer must have still been displeased with the form of his concerto – perhaps he was also sorry to have rejected the first movement from the previous versions of the work – and in 1983 he once again changed the score, adding a short introduction entitled Entrata.
Entrata – despite the fact that it slightly resembles the musical material from the original first movement of the concerto – is markedly shorter (lasting only about four minutes) and is more of an introduction and preparation for the main, slow movement of the work. For that contemplative middle movement is undoubtedly the main part of Panufnik’s Piano Concerto – its most important element, marked by piano sounds of extraordinary beauty, full of poetry and gentleness, subtly and tastefully embellished by the sounds of the orchestra.
It is in the three-part version from the early 1980s (the composer modified the Entrata again in 1985) that Panufnik’s Piano Concerto functions today.In May 1983, the Piano Concerto was recorded for the BBC Radio by John Ogdon and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer; the first studio recording was not made until 1991, a few months before the death of Panufnik, who conducted the London Symphony Orchestra with Ewa Pobłocka as the soloist.