For anyone wondering just how much the Toledo Symphony has grown in the past two seasons, the Warsaw Philharmonic's concert last night in the Peristyle provided a reality check. The answer? Quite a lot indeed.
Were the two orchestras to engage in a classical rendition of a battle of the bands, I would put my money on the locals.
Last night's performance, led by conductor Antoni Wit, though occasionally grand, was marred by a stagnant interpretive approach that substituted muscle for finesse. Faulty intonation was a constant issue, as was general ensemble, from disjointed entrances and releases to balance.
The orchestra-which offered a program of Penderecki, Chopin, and Brahms-shone in the first piece, but often floundered in the latter two. Indeed, the orchestra sometimes seemed so unwieldy, particularly in the Brahms, that I was reminded of childhood ice skating games of crack the whip in which those on the periphery would spin out of control from gestures created in the center. Phrases would expand and crescendo for no apparent musical reason beyond the notion that primal energy feeds on itself.
Curiously lacking in energy was Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, which featured Van Cliburn International Piano Competition 2001 gold medalist Olga Kern. This was Kern's second Toledo appearance; she played an occasionally thrilling recital here in the spring of 2003.
There were few such moments last night, however, as the bland orchestral accompaniment siphoned off most of the spirit she generated.
Heartfelt moments included the ever-increasing insistency with which she developed the expansive middle movement. Also engaging were the many colors with which she painted the main theme of the final movement.
Fascinating to hear was Penderecki's 1961 "Polymorphia," which offered a rainbow of string textures, foggy dissonances, and other sonic effects sensitively played. Maestro Wit waited some time for the audience to settle down, but even so, people talked and rustled papers through the first nearly inaudible minute of music. Too bad. The music asks listeners to stretch their ears and musical conceptions.
The most disturbing moments of this intensely disharmonious work? The simple major triad with which it concludes.
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