Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

From Dinara Klinton getting Concerto proceedings under way (Franck’s Symphonic Variations) through Dvořák on period instruments (Lukáš Vondráček) to Bruce Liu signing off an extended fortnight, the Chopin Institute’s 2022 “Chopin and His Europe” fest, artistic director Stanisław Leszczyński, has been an uplifting, cleverly planned fusion of celebrities, laureates and novelty.

Maestoso 4/4 commences Chopin’s F-minor. Yet how often do conductors hasten and weaken the exposition, gabbling the orchestration and hastening phrase endings? Certainly not Vasily Petrenko, commendably out to make a shapely serious statement of the first movement, a sensitively balanced portrait of the second – Konstancja, the dream girl of Chopin’s youth – and a gracefully detailed folk dance of the Finale. Tempo was everything. Concurring, Liu shaped themes and episodes with care and clarity. Runs and roulades, the delirious, tumbling opulence of the rhythmic invention, glittered but never glared. A refined account, the expressive style, the footsteps of a young artist in 1830 Warsaw sensed without artifice or affectation. “[This] Concerto”, wrote a Polish critic of the day, “[might] be compared to the life of an honest man, no ambiguity, falsity, exaggeration […] the whole is subordinated to the genius of music, which it breathes and exhales.” That’s what Liu aspired to conjure. That’s what the section principals of the Royal Philharmonic responded to – a panorama of emotions always loving, occasionally in love. Two encores. The polacca from Chopin’s ‘Là ci darem la mano’ Variations – feathered pianism, shyness in the air, Petrenko aristocratically gallant. Für Elise – ‘shall I, shan’t I’ jazzed ‘improv’, Kapustin’s ghost surely smiling somewhere in the shadows. If you’re going to risk these waters, this is how to swagger it. Ecstatic applause.

The concert opened with the Overture to Stanisław Moniuszko’s opera Paria, produced in Warsaw in December 1869, Petrenko delineating the formal structure, lyric contrasts, and tuttis and solos with notable care. Hard to place the style – Mendelssohn, Verdi, Flotow, early-Wagner surfacing vaguely – but well-worth sampling, the mixture of languorous sigh and theatrical attack proving an appealing combination. Sibelius’s Second Symphony, billed as “Symphony of Independence”, comprised the second half. ”The most crushing protest against all the injustice which today threatens to take light from the sun” (Robert Kajanus, 1902). Steeped in the vocabulary,  balancing the whole in two halves of two movements each, Petrenko – a tall presence on the podium, his elegantly curling, clawing, clenched left hand conveying stories, moods, mystery – took a breathed, elementally coloured view of the landscape, finding repose and silence within the tensions of its forty-five-minute span. Wind rustling the grass, winter tempests, granite rock faces, Arctic bird-cries, weighted strings, reedy rumination (Scherzo gloriously so), blazing trumpets (resonantly timed and focussed in the Finale), oceanic surges, climactic major-key catharsis. Excelling in all quarters, the RPO (individually characterful, traditional stage layout) was in high-octane form.

For encore one of Petrenko’s favourites, ‘Morning’ from Grieg’s music for Peer Gynt – an Orphean timbre-and-theme showcase expansively unfolded, beautifully polished.