John Axelrod

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20 Dec 2001
Concerto Grosso - Dziennik Polski
Dziennik Polski

Krzysztof Penderecki has decided to make it possible for cellists to compete with the famous "Three Tenors", composing a concerto for three celli - something unprecedented in earlier, as well as modern music. True enough, there have been triple concertos, but never with such instrumentation. After its premiere in Tokyo, in June of this year, this latest composition of Penderecki's was performed in Poland for the first time at Tuesday's concert by the Sinfonietta Cracovia, under the direction of John Neal Axelrod, with exceptional soloists Andrzej Bauer, Claudio Bohorquez, and Rafal Kwiatkowski. In "Concerto grosso" - for this is what the piece was named - Penderecki develops the general concept of this Baroque form's construction, but without any stylistic emulation of 18th-century music whatsoever: from the opening measures, gradually revealing the crystallising composition, he speaks in his own language. It displays, of course, roots in and numerous references to earlier music, which, in the opinion of certain factions of the avant-garde (today all but fossilised), was paramount to the Original Sin. And yet, after all, it is a language that is not only communicative, but also greatly varied. In "Concerto grosso" it ranges from nocturne-romantic passages, like for instance in the juxtaposition of a solo French horn with only the three celli, where the sonority alone creates a neo-romantic aura, to dramatic fragments, acute rhythmically and in timbre, at one point with grotesquely ironic, almost Prokofievian accents. References to the instrumental concerto genre are distinct: in the exposition the individual soloists are presented in turn with their own cadences, like heroes in a drama, to later engage in a lively discourse. Short solos of various instruments emerge from the orchestra as well, as part of the concerto form, which in recent years has taken on special meaning in Penderecki's work. "Concerto grosso" seems a particularly cogent work that conveys a synthesis of many of his earlier achievements; the soloists - a triple garland of cello virtuosity and timbral beauty.

Concerning the second half of the evening, in brief: Antonin Dvorak's 9th "New World" Symphony in e minor. I expected a fine performance, on a proper standard, as that's the way it is here with well-known titles from the standard repertoire, but I was wrong. The performance was fantastic, at times quite simply a revelation, and inspired a true explosion of enthusiasm in the audience. The Sinfonietta Cracovia, expanded to full symphonic instrumentation, shined with impeccable class: the brass resounded as if it were American, the wood-winds solos were beautiful, the strings' pianissimo was incredibly subtle, and John Neal Axelrod's interpretation was magnificent. His appointment as the first guest conductor of this ensemble has proved to be a perfect "10", and Dvorak's symphony was a sort of precious gift beneath the Christmas tree for music lovers.

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