Friday, March 31, 2023

National Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, Poland

It’s one thing to discover the Missa solemnis when playing viola in a student performance, but quite another to then want to conduct Beethoven’s transcendental Mass in D. Leonard Slatkin first did so in St Louis thirty years ago, then in Washington D.C. (National Symphony Orchestra) in October 1996. And now in Warsaw.

A sense of occasion graced the ‘Kyrie’, at once spiritual and universal in its communication, Slatkin setting a broad pace, the music living and breathing, then quickening, the solo and choral singing not without ardour and always expressive. The ‘Gloria’ burst in attacca, the chorus on its mettle to match Slatkin’s fiery approach (and Beethoven’s demands are huge anyway) with attention to dynamics and ebb and flow, nothing metronomic, and with soprano and tenor impressive, lyrical moments shapely, faster ones striding forward ecstatically. The ’Credo’ married vitality with depth of reflection, and with it the growing sense that the performers were truly caught up with the music and its message, the printed page but a guide as to what to sing and play, fervency and meaning added on an individual and collective basis, galvanised by Slatkin. The ‘Sanctus’ demonstrated that he also had the measure of the music’s breadth, as well as its literal leaps of faith, contrasts that settle for the profound entrance of a violin for the “Benedictus” section, affectingly shaped by the concertmaster, blissfully haloed by the singers. Wonder gives way to woe in the final ‘Agnus Dei’, an uneasy atmosphere established and confirmed in the warlike episode and then with the corollary of the subsequent plea for peace (“Dona nobis pacem”) – especially pertinent here with Poland so close to Ukraine – and given from the heart.

With a radio broadcast sporting good, well-balanced sound, trouble-free in terms of web reception, there was an honesty to this well-prepared and dedicated realisation that carried the listener along for seventy-five minutes.

Polina Pastirchak (soprano), Ulrike Helzel (alto), Patrik Reiter (tenor) & Łukasz Konieczny (bass); Choir of the Karol Szymanowski Philharmonic in Cracow; National Philharmonic Orchestra, Warsaw.