Concert Review

Warsaw Autumn Festival 99

Unfortunately I arrived too late to attend the first chamber concert featuring the music of the splendid and underrated Grazyna Bacewicz, commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of her death. I rather wish that I had, for the official opening concert on 17 September was something of a let down. The audience, although a respectable size, was split between this event and a performance given by Penderecki down the road.

The other strange occurrence was the rather unsubtle presence of television cameras - strange because can anyone imagine anything similar being broadcast on national television in this country?

Back to the concert at the National Philharmonic Hall - despite the valiant efforts of the excellent Wojciech Michniewski and the National Philharmonic Orchestra, neither of the two newish pieces by Algirdas Matinaitis and the late Gerard Grisey could hold a candle to the Berio Sinfonia - a classic which managed to survive a badly prepared and crudely over-amplified vocal octet. Over Witold Szalonek's Les Sons (1965) it is best to draw a veil - a catalogue of what were perhaps "right on" musical experiments then, but now sound dated and frankly ridiculous. Still, amongst all this woe, it was good to have heard Mossolov's Iron Foundry as an opener.

I can report on only half of the September 18 concert given by Icebreaker at the Chopin Academy because, again thanks to the most dreadful amplification I have heard in a long time, the assault on my ears was just too much. This amplification disfigured some of Nancarrow's wonderful Studies to an alarming degree, making it impossible to pick out individual lines. I would have liked to hear G-Spot Tornado, but sadly I fled after Music for Robert Dupkala by Martin Burlas, which I would have failed at GCSE level.

Thankfully, salvation came in the form of the Radio Chamber Orchestra of Hilversum conducted by Peter Eotvos. This took place in the splendid Lutoslawski Concert Hall at Polish Radio, which is a worthy memorial to the great composer. I have only heard this orchestra once, on their home territory in the Netherlands, where they gave the best they could under a less than effective conductor. Under a musician of the calibre of Eotvos, known as a conductor in UK too, they shone like the fine orchestra I had suspected they were.

Eotvos's own piece Shadows was a beautifully realised tone poem, almost impressionistic, with delicate colours and a tantalising hint of Hungarian folk music. [Eotvos's Chinese Opera (1986) Erato ECD 75554 is a favourite in my CD collection. Ed. -]

This proved to be a fine contrast to the bristling energy of Hanna Kulenty's Sinequan Forte B for cello and orchestra, given an energetic world premiere by Michael Muller. Kulenty is a fine composer whose work we should hear more often in the UK. In contrast to the opening concert, Witold Szalonek's oboe concerto L'hautbois mon amour was a peculiar combination of neo-romantic wandering and bits of Vaughan Williams at his most pastoral - very odd indeed.

A real discovery was the Symphony in D by the Dutchman Tristan Keuris who died in 1996. Its title slightly worried me, but the invention, craftsmanship, crisp and effective orchestration and pure sense of it all carried me away completely. Not exactly at the cutting edge of new music perhaps but, when music is so brilliantly put together, who cares?

Two more groups waved the flag for the UK - Sinfonia 21 gave a nothing short of stunning account of Steve Martland's Crossing the Border, revelling in the considerable demands on their stamina - it came at the end of a demanding concert at the Lutoslawski Hall. The rest of the programme consisted of Julian Anderson's Past Hymns - one of his strongest pieces, Ligeti's Ramifications again, given one of the best performances I have heard; Mirrors, a rather less than memorable new work by Anna Zawadzka-Golosz, and short pieces by Pärt and Vasks - Martyn Brabbins conducted with great panache.

Panache is also the word that comes to mind to describe the Wind Orchestra of the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, not least the conducting of Tim Reynish, whose impromptu speech in Polish at the beginning of their concert at the Chopin Academy caused much merriment amongst the home crowd and created a friendly atmosphere.

Of the music, I am not in the least bit ashamed to report that the English representation stood head and shoulders above the two Polish works. I found Richard Rodney Bennett's Morning Music a little long winded, but certainly not as much as Cassazione by Zbigniew Bujarski or Leggiero e mobile by Krystyna Moszumanska-Naza, which was many things, but not Leggiero e mobile !

Anthony Gilbert's Dream Carousels inhabits a magical, almost Ravelian, fantasy world, whilst John Casken's Distant Variations - (Concerto Grosso for Sax Quartet and Wind Orchestra) was rightly cheered to the rafters [A new Casken opera is promised for next year's Huddersfield Festival. Ed].

David Wordsworth

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