Krzysztof Penderecki’s Utrenja, inspired by the Orthodox liturgy of Holy Saturday, depicts the lamentations of Christ’s death and the Easter Sunday service commemorating the Resurrection. The work is scored for three male voices (tenor, bass and basso profondo, which correspond, respectively, to the roles of the chaplain, deacon, and lector) and two female voices (soprano and mezzo-soprano, who fulfill purely musical roles). Supporting the soloists are two choirs and an orchestra rich in brass and percussion. The composer has commented: “Utrenja is a combination of pure, a cappella vocalwriting and orchestral effects (for strings and percussion) very much connected with electronic music.’ The two-part work uses an Old Slavonic liturgical text without inhibition as to its traditional function and usage. Part One, Entombment (dedicated to the conductor Eugene Ormandy), was commissioned by West German Radio and had its premiere in Altenberg on April 8, 1970. The Polish premiere took place in Kraków on June 26, 1971.
After the premiere of Part One, West German Radio commissioned Penderecki to compose Part Two, Resurrection, which premiered on May 28, 1971 in Munster, paired with a performance of Entombment. Since then, ensembles have generally (though not exclusively) performed the two parts together. The first Polish performance of the complete Utrenja duly took place in Kraków on September 16, 1971.
Enthusiastically received by audiences, Utrenja stands beside the composer’s Polish Requiem (8557386-87) and St Luke Passion (8557149) among the masterpieces of modern Polish music.