Wroclaw Philharmonic shines during performance at Dreyfoos Hall

02.09.12
Garrick Ohlsson, Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Palm Beach Daily News

By Márcio Bezerra

In spite of her economic and political woes, Poland has been able to hold a remarkable position in classical music for, at least, the past 200 years.

And not only thanks to her most famous son, Frédéric Chopin. In fact, some of the more satisfying music of the 20th century hails from Poland, and the country remains an important center of contemporary music.

One of its many accomplished orchestras, the Wroclaw Philharmonic, graced the Kravis Center with the two latest concerts in the Regional Arts Series. On Wednesday, the focus was on Polish music.

The program started with Little Suite by Witold Lutoslawski. A celebrated European composer of the last century, his idiom was characterized by a balanced approach to musical experiments and tradition.

That was clear in the short suite heard at Dreyfoos Hall. Based on folk tunes, it features strikingly modern harmonies and novel instrumental effects. Like many Polish composers of his era, Lutoslawski avoided both the unabashed populism of the Soviet style and the alienating cerebralism of the West during the postwar years. For this reason, his music remains relevant today.

Conductor Jacek Kaspszyk gave a nuanced rendition of the four movements, giving space for each section of the orchestra to shine. The ensemble impressed for its overall cohesion and rhythmic drive.

It was a good choice for an opener, especially because the orchestral writing is so secondary in the next piece on the program, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor, Op. 21.

Written when the composer was in his teens, it betrays his love for opera through its many recitative-like passages and his characteristic lyrical melodic writing. Though not as impressive as his mature solo works, there is still plenty of imagination and fire in this concerto.

Like his other orchestral works, the piano is merely accompanied by the ensemble, reigning supremely. Pianist Garrick Ohlsson gave a flawless reading, as one would from one of today’s most renowned Chopin interpreters.

There was plenty of power when needed and also plenty of lyricism. Ohlsson’s nonintrusive approach put Chopin’s voice above his own.

Kaspszky shared in the same tactic, accompanying Ohlsson with subtlety and finesse.

The second part of the program consisted of a single piece, the Piano Quartet No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 25 by Johannes Brahms, in an orchestration by Arnold Schoenberg.

Few people realize the many connections the two composers had. Not only did Schoenberg see his music as a continuation of the German tradition carried out by Brahms (even writing a famous article on the older composer), but Brahms is supposed to have admired an early quartet by the young Schoenberg.

Though this orchestration of the piano quartet is still performed today from time to time, it subtracts more than it adds to the original. In fact, the absence of the left hand piano part robs the work of its effervescence. That is mostly true in the first movement, but even the finale turns out less exciting than the original. The only exception is the andante con moto, in which the hymn-like theme finds its ideal place in the string ?transcription.

Despite the shortcomings of the arrangement, the Wroclaw Philharmonic and Kaspszyk gave a satisfying reading, highlighting the many qualities of the ensemble. Hopefully, next time they will play a Brahms symphony or some other work originally written for orchestra, just as they did in their electrifying encore, the Overture to Candide by Leonard ?Bernstein.