Sunday, November 6, 2016

concert review: Warsaw Philharmonic

Last week, I went to Davies and heard SFS play Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2. So what do I get when I go back to Davies for the visiting Warsaw Philharmonic? Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1. Like 8 Bartok quartets in 2 days, that's more than I want.

Nor is a Chopin piano concerto exactly a showpiece for a visiting orchestra. Undoubtably they played it because they, like Chopin, are from Poland. The soloist, whom the concerto is about, was not from Poland. He's one of those 22-year-old virtuosi with names like, in his case, Seong-Jin Cho. The audience thought vehemently well of him, and he was certainly fluent. In the Romanze movement he achieved a distinctive liquidity of tone which I thought was very fine. His encore was the Op. 53 Polonaise, a banging piece not designed to replicate that particular virtue.

The orchestra's big showpiece was the Brahms First Symphony, in a lean, energetic performance nevertheless notable for what seems to be Warsaw's most distinctive characteristic, a fat, heavy, almost crass tutti sound. For an encore, they acknowledged the country they were playing in and offered Bernstein's Candide Overture, which they didn't sound unfamiliar with.

Also on the program, something else Polish - sort of - and more for the connoisseur. It was the Polish Melodies by Moisei Weinberg, born and raised in Poland, moved to the USSR where he studied with Shostakovich and spent the rest of his life, and considered by cognoscenti to be one of the great unsung composers of the last century.

Not for this piece, though, which is a brief exercise in Soviet populism that could have been written by Kabalevsky, and doesn't even sound all that Polish. It does, however, begin with a long horn solo over a pedal point, so putting it at the start of the concert, with the horns not warmed up yet, was daring. A single flub could have spoiled the entire effect that the visitors were aiming for. However, there were no flubs. Good show.

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