Concerto for bassoon and small orchestra
The Bassoon Concerto was commissioned by the U.S. bassoonist Robert Thompson, though its content is closely associated with Panufnik’s homeland. Shortly before the composer began working on the concerto, the public across the world was shocked by the news of the politically motivated murder of Father Jerzy Popiełuszko. The news shocked Panufnik so much that he decided to dedicate the Bassoon Concerto, on which he was working at the time, to the memory of Father Popiełuszko.
As a result, the Bassoon Concerto is among the most profoundly programmatic pieces in Panufnik’s oeuvre. The five-movement composition illustrates, as it were, the life and death of Father Popiełuszko. A brief Prologo is followed by Recitativo I (performed by the bassoon soloist accompanied by three woodwinds), which may resemble “the priest’s humble prayer to the Virgin Mary”. Next comes Recitativo II, which illustrates the priest’s encounter with representatives of the secret police, and brutal interrogations “before his tortured body was thrown into the reservoir by the Vistula River”. The next movement, which is the main part of the work, Aria, is a kind of elegy, the long melodic line of which brings to mind the spirit of Polish folk melodies. The concerto ends with a brief, quiet epilogue, which is most likely an expression of belief in a spiritual victory of the martyred priest.Composing the Bassoon Concerto, Panufnik not only intended to include in it allusions to the life and death of Father Popiełuszko; another considerable challenge for him was the very fact of writing for the bassoon, an instrument usually regarded as the “clown” of the orchestra due to its comic potential. However, the composer decided to challenge this stereotype and entrusted the bassoon with a very expressive, almost dramatic part, revealing the singing potential of this instrument (primarily in the Aria). The soloist admitted in an interview that he treated Panufnik’s Concerto not as a piece in which he played bassoon, but as an opera in which he sang a dramatic solo part.