A touch of Polish

Yesterday evening's concert at Cadogan Hall was given by The Symphony Orchestra of the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic in Białystok (hereinafter referred to as the orchestra) conducted by Marcin Nałęcz-Niesiołowski (hereinafter referred to as the conductor). The orchestra, previously known as the Białystok Philharmonic, is the leading orchestra of the Białystok area of Poland, and has undertaken numerous foreign tours.

Most of the music performed was of course Polish or Polish-related. The opening item was a little known piece by Elgar, the Symphonic Prelude Polonia (Op.76), composed in 1915 to support Poland's struggle for independence after World War 1. It runs about 15 minutes and draws on Polish traditional melodies as well as compositions by Chopin and Paderewski; as you would expect it's well orchestrated and though it's minor Elgar it's an interesting work. The orchestra produced a warm and colourful sound.

The next two works were by the Polish composer Mieczysław Karłowicz (1876-1909): as it happens I'm familiar with his work - I came across one of his compositions on a second-hand Polish LP I bought many years ago (for the music on the other side), and this encouraged me to listen to and purchase some of his other works when the opportunity arose.

His Eternal Songs is a Symphonic Poem for orchestra in three movements - Eternal Longing, Love and Death, and Eternal Being. The orchestral colour is very effective; the first movement is sombre, the second begins and ends quietly but with a convincing storm in the middle, and the third is triumphant though over-reliant on repetitive phrases in crescendo to build up tension. Though it's not a great work the conductor and orchestra brought out the best in it.

Karłowicz's violin concerto - which I know well from a couple of recordings - was performed by a young violinist, Charlie Siem, born in London in 1986 and carving out a rising career for himself. The work is lightweight but very attractive, with a memorable main theme: many of its passages are complex and difficult and Siem played them effortlessly - I felt he was bowing too hard in the opening section, and on a couple of occasions the intonation on very high notes was slightly off, but apart from that it was a convincing and engaging performance of a work which deserves to be better known.

Nothing Polish about the final work, Schumann's Fourth Symphony: it was tautly and energetically played with the final movement taken at a cracking pace - faster than usual, but with a precision and fire which made it seem entirely justified.

The hall was only about one-fifth full, which was a pity: the performance deserved better apprecation but it's always difficult to bring audiences in to unfamiliar works, no matter how good they may be.

Posted: Sat - December 12, 2009 at 09:52 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM