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Ionarts at Large: Polish Rumbles of the Pleasant Kind from Munich

From Warsaw and Brussels have come less-than-pleasant tones these days. The idea that the dead of World War II should be counted (and apparently Purchase Power Parity adjusted, sort-of) when it comes to deciding on the weighing of voting rights in the European ex-Constitution was greeted with anything from shock, to aghast disdain, to annoyance and unnerved eye-rolling. But while the Kaczynski brothers vie for making the least harmonious political noises in Europe (apparently being afflicted with in-born political tone-deafness), the Eight Chamber-concert of the Munich Philharmonic's 2006/2007 season this Sunday offered the necessary balance that reclaimed the Polish stakes on beauty and pleasantry: Courtesy of an all-Polish program with music of Stefan Boleslaw Poradowski, Fryderyk Chopin, and Karol Szymanowski with members of the orchestra.

One might think of three dancing elephants at encountering a trio for double basses on your program - but Poradowski's op.56, which is just that, offered nimble wit, elegiac moments, subtlety (!) and grace. A first movement - melodic and fervid - with a lovely main theme that sounds so naturally familiar that it appears a musical quotation even though it is (presumably) original. The slow second movement, which didn't sound like 20th century fare, either, is of a darker shade, beautifully moving before it ebbs away in meandering anonymity... only to re-emerge with a vigorous and strong third movement that happily harks back to the theme of the first, interpolated with capricious ideas that further explore the capabilities of the double bass and its player(s). The work's cute - a happy little freak - and was executed with aplomb by Slawomir Grenda, Alexander Preuss, and Jesper Ulfenstedt.

Frederic ChopinFryderyk Chopin - spelled à la Polonaise - offers more conventional beauty in his g-minor Piano Trio op.8 which, if Chopin really did lack enthusiasm composing it ("chamber music is is only for show; good enough for salons and the ladies"), doesn't show it. In the hands of Ivana Svarc Grenda (piano), Namiko Fuse (violin), and especially the outstanding Isolde Hayer (cello), it appeared no less splendid than it must have to Robert Schumann, who praised the work to the skies upon discovering it. The first movement might be near-endless, but it's never boring; the length of the four-movement work presented a problem only for the fidgetiest of kids at the matinée. The Cello Sonata for Double Bass was next... still Chopin - op.65, also g-minor - but in Slawomir Grenda's adaptation for his instrument (hence my oxymoronic description). It might have looked odd and I regret not having heard the fine Ms. Hayer again, but the way Mr. Grenda made his instrument sing the Chopin was impressive enough to have made this departure from the norm well worth it. And the extra ooomph of the double bass' lower register (nearly) made up for heights that can turn squealy and nasal compared to the cello's ability to soar.

Szymanowski is a composer that I've always known should fascinate me, but who has, despite the will to embrace and love everything he composed, never quite captured my heart in the way other 'masters in the second guard' have: Atterberg, Busoni, Langgaard, Pfitzner, Rheinberger, Saygun, Schreker, Wellesz... to mention an eclectic bunch of my 'lovlies'.

But one day, Karol Szymanowksi, too, will be comprehended by me in the way that is necessary to tap into a whole new love. His Second String Quartet performed live was a good step into that direction. And liking this work is really tantamount to liking Szymanowski in toto: it's a work that is his musical personality become manifest. His harmonic language stretches to the outer reaches of tonality but, baring sloppiness or tuning accidents of the first violinist (Ms. Fuse), never boldly goes beyond. The first movement of Op.56 feels around in the dark, searching gently; the second movement moves matters pleasantly toward Bartók - an outbreak of energy and rustic joy somewhere rooted in distant folk-music sources. Lamenting, shivering, and its energy largely sapped, the third movement takes time before it re-awakens when a long cello trill marks the the opening of a lively ride toward a soft end. Ana Vladanovic-Lebedinski played second violin, Agata Josefowicz Fiolek, Viola

1 comment:

Akimon Azuki said...

Ha, it certainly is easier to enjoy Polish music abroad than it is at home. Kaczynski twins not only have been spewing most retarded statements in public (though have nothing on LPR and ze venerable Minister of Education), they have also taken a decisively proactive role in the cultural scene, most recently putting their political flunky in charge of National Opera in Warsaw. He then promptly fired Mariusz Trelinski from the said institution. Apparently Trelinski is good enough for Domingo and WNO, but not artsy enough for the Twin Forces of Duckness.
And BTW, Szymanowski may be acquired taste, but his Stabat Mater is rather accessible and popular. Naxos has issued a decent recording of it.