This evening’s Istanbul Music Festival programme with Sinfonia Varsovia, the guest resident orchestra, and Piotr Anderszewski featured mellow and unexciting fare by Dvořák and Tchaikovsky, sandwiching Szymanowksi’s thrilling Symphony no. 4 “Symphonie concertante” for piano and orchestra.

Piotr Anderszewski © MG de Saint Venant | Virgin Classics
Piotr Anderszewski
© MG de Saint Venant | Virgin Classics

I have so far been unsuccessful at making my peace with Dvořák’s music, and the overture In Nature’s Realm, with its uninspired and repetitive motifs, undue religious panache and the occasionally turgid fanfares is a good case in point why. Sinfonia Varsovia is a very fine ensemble and they seemed invested in bringing out a fine-tuned performance of Dvořák. Jakub Hrůša, the conductor, kept an upbeat tempo and dynamics but his intentions, particularly during the hymn section, went mostly unnoticed due to the venue’s long reverberation. Granted I was sited towards the right, the violins were absent during the loud passages and sounded mumbled during the quieter ones.

But what I really want to report is Mr Anderszewski’s highly excitable and agitated Symphonie Concertante. The pianist, having long been a champion of Szymanowksi’s music, was the ideal choice to play the work. From the exotic and airy introductory theme to the anxious finale, the soloist gave a superlative performance. This is a dense work, built upon many layers of sound making it hard to pull off a balanced performance without either muting down the orchestra or banging the piano. But tonight, Mr Hrůša and his orchestra did not need to pull back to make Mr Anderszewski heard. Instead they opted to add a little syncopation in which they let the piano enter into the phrases very slightly prior to the orchestra. This allowed the solo instrument’s lines to remain traceable –and more importantly separable, throughout the work. This is not meant to be understood as a lack of synchronicity, though. To the contrary, the subtle trick allowed the thickness in Szymanowksi’s orchestration to detangle and come to life. Furthermore, during certain sequences like the frantic coda of the first movement or the percussive final Allegro, the music gained additional zest and colour. Even the hall’s unforgiving acoustics were no match for Mr Hrůša’s unrelenting push towards a rhythmic and pulsating reading. If it were up to me, I would probably take Istanbul Music Festival’s classical music concerts –at least the orchestral ones - out of the damp and stony Hagia Irene and move them right outside, on the Imperial Gardens of Topkapi Palace -a perfectly manicured lawn where the audience could listen to the music accompanied by the chirping of summer birds and the sweet aroma of linden trees while watching the sun set over the Bosporus.

It was during the Andante that we got to hear Piotr Anderszewski’s aptitude in drawing out myriads of sonorities from his piano, something we’ve been accustomed to hearing from his records of Polish composers. The movement’s heavenly tunes from the flute were accompanied perfectly by the pianist’s perfectly resonant octaves and his fingerwork in the high registers. He alternated his playing between muted and open, clouding his touch when accompanying the violin and brightening it when playing against the flute, resulting in a pleasantly balanced overall sound.

Kudos for the evening has to go to Jakub Hrůša for his courageous and spirited leadership as much as Mr Anderszewski who graced us with an encore in the shape of a lovely Sarabande from Bach’s Partita no. 1 in B-flat major BWV825. 

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