Wednesday, May 25, 2022

La Palau de la Música, Barcelona

Guest Reviewer, Guy Holloway

Owing to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the scheduled St Petersburg Philharmonic was replaced by the Warsaw Philharmonic. Andrzej Boreyko (born in Leningrad) addressed us to say that the orchestra stood in solidarity with the people of Ukraine against the “merciless aggressor” and he launched his players into the Ukrainian National Anthem.

Lutosławski’s attractive if lightweight Little Suite reworks Polish folk melodies. Boreyko sensitively exploited the transparency of the writing with rhythms buoyantly sprung and immaculate ensemble. The string-players listened attentively to each other, and the winds were haunting and melancholic, and unmistakeably Slav in timbre.

The Uzbek pianist Bezhod Abduraimov disappointed in the Rachmaninov. Even the tolling opening chords failed to make an impression; he rode roughshod over the pp marking on the first chord and thereafter there was no possibility of poco a poco crescendo for there was nowhere to go.  Indisputably Abduraimov articulated the scherzando passages with a diamond brilliance but, frustratingly, he held back, as if unable to trust himself, in the surging climaxes, especially in the approach, and during, the alla marcia section of the first movement. In the slow one there were some tender moments from the woodwinds and Abduraimov played beautifully in terms of tone production but, with insufficient pulse and forward momentum, it all became a bit of a wallow. Only in the Finale did he exude some dash and impetuosity, hinting at reserves of power. The orchestra responded in kind, playing with greater bite and attack, the sound richer and darker.

Grieg withdrew his C-minor Symphony (written when he was twenty) soon after it was written. And for a hundred years it remained largely unknown until its first recording with the Bergen Philharmonic in 1988. Boreyko and the Warsaw Philharmonic began with scintillating energy and fizz, the woodwinds pleading, and the strings swaggering and sweeping with verve. And the brass-players had a ball with the fanfare motifs. Boreyko had an eagle eye on all sections of the orchestra, forcefully imposing changes in tempo and exhorting his players to follow him dynamic changes, which were at times sudden if undeniably gripping. Only in the Adagio did interest wane, but perhaps had more to do with some derivative writing. Overall, a most persuasive case was made for Grieg’s disowned Symphony.

There was an immensely enjoyable encore, Chopin’s A-major Polonaise – in an imaginative orchestration by Grzegorz Fitelberg, one of the first conductors of the Warsaw Philharmonic.