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The string quartet Heartfelt was commissioned by the Sacconi Quartet in 2019. The quartet was involved at the time in a multi-media experiment in which audiences were connected to the performers’ heart monitors via wi-fi, creating a multi-sensory listening experience. 'This captured my imagination', Panufnik says. 'Music, for me, is all about the heart.'

The first movement, 'Uzbek processional', conjures images of 'a grand and regal caravan of camels and carriages, travelling down the Silk Road'. This, too, is about the heart: 'The court musicians of 17th-century Uzbekistan used to set the tempo of their performances by first feeling their pulse. This ensured their music would have a ‘stately’ start, however ebullient their dance music became', says Panufnik. The movement involves four traditional melodies, the quartet evoking the sound of Uzbek instruments. The dances are superimposed for the ending, then fade into the distance, 'and we’re left with a lonely wind blowing over the plains …'

'Lament for a Bulgarian dancing bear' was inspired by Witold Szabłowski’s harrowing book Dancing bears, describing the rescue of maltreated animals after bear dancing became illegal in Bulgaria. Panufnik wanted to base it on the heartbeat of a real bear—somewhat challenging to source. When her letters to zoological societies proved fruitless, she resorted to a public request on Facebook. A cellist friend who lived beside Bristol Zoo finally made contact for her. As it turned out, a young European Brown Bear, named Albie, was about to undergo a small surgical procedure under anaesthetic, 'which is the only time, for obvious reasons, that you can get to hear a bear’s heartbeat!' Via a digital stethoscope, the zoo was able to supply Panufnik with a recording of Albie’s heartbeat, the anaesthetic resembling the bear’s hibernation. The gentle, slow pulse on one note is a musical translation of the sound.

On top of this is a traditional-style Bulgarian folk melody which the bear-keeper would have played on a gadulka, a stringed instrument with a set of sympathetic strings beneath three to five melodic ones. The quartet recreates this effect by using a leather mute and playing poco sul ponticello with light pressure in the left hand. Finally, as the bear is rescued, his heartbeat elevates in joy.

Albie himself is pictured on this album’s front cover.

from notes by Jessica Duchen © 2021


Panufnik (R): Heartfelt & other works
Studio Master: SIGCD673Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Movement 1: Uzbek processional
Track 14 on SIGCD673 [5'43] Download only
Movement 2: Lament for a Bulgarian dancing bear
Track 15 on SIGCD673 [5'39] Download only

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