Krzysztof Penderecki’s Polish Requiem, performed by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the composer, is far from being a work of sacred music in the formal, solemn sense of the term.

On the contrary, it is a forceful, profound and also dramatic humanization of the liturgy – a portrayal of conflicting and manifold feelings, fear, horror, depression and also hope, regarding the inevitability of death.

Already the Dies Irae (“Day of Wrath”), right after the opening, plastically conveys the rage of the Last Judgement.

The persistent repetition of one and the same note on each syllable of this dreaded Day’s text is a stroke of genius in its simplicity, occurring again later on other notes and in different contexts. The immediately following calm soprano and subsequent oboe section sounded like a consolation.

The alternation of menace and hope leads, toward the end, to Libera Me (“Deliver Me”) that sounds not like an imploration, but like an outcry of despair, culminating in the Finale’s hopeful optimism of “Let the souls of the faithful pass from death to life.”

The lead heroes were the Gary Bertini Choir and the Jerusalem Academy Choir.

They performed with stunning force of conviction and contagious identification with the music and the text.

Melanie Diener made her bright, clear soprano sound like weeping in grief over the destiny of humankind. Tenor Rafal Bartninski displayed magnificent intensity of expression. Robert Jerzienski’s bass sounded appealingly sonorous and dark-timbered.

Agnieszka Rehlis’ warm mezzo-soprano blended in harmoniously with the ensemble.

The orchestra contributed exciting drama, tension and enchanting instrumental soli.

This uncommonly impressive work and its splendid performance were an experience to be remembered for a long time.

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