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Hidden Treasure From Poland

November 21, 2008

Valentina Lisitsa performing with the Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, on Monday 17 November 2008.

Performing in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is presumably a treat for soloists, chamber musicians and singers. The space and the sound of the room are ideal for creating a sense of intimacy. But for an orchestra of any appreciable size the hall is a risky proposition; the dry, flat acoustics are unforgiving of any flaw in execution or intonation.

The latest orchestra to have its mettle tried by the auditorium was the Warsaw Philharmonic, which arrived on Monday night during its East Coast tour. Founded in 1901, the ensemble is probably best known in the United States for its many recordings on the budget label Naxos. Under the leadership of Antoni Wit, its music director since 2002, the Warsaw Philharmonic has recorded valuable series devoted to the works of prominent Polish composers like Witold Lutoslawski and Krzysztof Penderecki, as well as representative works by Henryk Gorecki and other contemporary figures.

One of the orchestra’s most recent Naxos offerings featured three fascinating symphonic poems by Mieczyslaw Karlowicz, a Polish composer from the turn of the 20th century who adopted a style based on Tchaikovsky and Strauss before his death in an avalanche at 32. Opening the program here was a work not found on the orchestra’s CD: Serenade (Op. 2), a charming string-orchestra work from 1897, when Karlowicz was studying in Berlin.

Antoni Wit conducts all six of Karlowicz’s symphonic poems on two Naxos CDs:

Vol 1 - Stanislaw i Anna Oswiecimowie, Rapsodia litewska, Epizod na maskaradzie
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra
Vol 2 - Powracajace fale, Smutna opowiesc & Odwieczne piesni
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra

The rich, handsomely blended sound of the Warsaw strings immediately indicated that the orchestra had nothing to fear from the hall’s acoustics. Mr. Wit affectionately molded and shaped phrases in this slight, frothy work; especially appealing was a third-movement waltz that sounded ready made for a Vincente Minnelli ice-skating sequence.

With Liszt’s flamboyant Piano Concerto No. 1 came an appropriately extroverted soloist, Valentina Lisitsa. The work’s most ferocious passages apparently held no fear for her; a note or two fell by the wayside, but her technical skills largely served her well. Ms. Lisitsa’s range of colors and expressive shadings was consistently impressive; in the second movement she executed trills with an attention-grabbing precision.

Mr. Wit’s interpretation of Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 held no surprises. His plainspoken, deeply satisfying account benefited from warm, mellow strings and robust brass. A rousing response from the audience drew three encores: Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance in C (Op. 46, No. 1); the “Hurra Polka” from Lutoslawski’s “Little Suite”; and an ebullient rendition of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” — intended, Mr. Wit said from the stage, “to celebrate your new president, Barack Obama.”

- Steve Smith, The New York Times, 18 November 2008

Other Naxos recordings of music from the Warsaw Philharmonic’s New York concert include:

Liszt Piano Concerto
No 1

Nebolsin, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Petrenko
MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition
LISZT: Piano Concerto No 1

Peng Peng, Nashville Symphony & Orchestra, Slatkin
Brahms Symphony No 2
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Alsop
Dvořák Slavonic Dances
Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, Kosler
Lutosławski Little Suite
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Wit

Antoni Wit Biography & Discography

Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra Biography & Discography

Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra Biography & Discography

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra Biography & Discography


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