This concert by Poland’s national orchestra, the Warsaw Philharmonic, attracted a near-capacity audience which had in it a fair sprinkling of members of the local Polish community, judging from overheard conversations and some shouts of “Jeszcze raz!” (“More!”) at the end. Mindful of the popular vote, the orchestra delivered a romantic programme which included both Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, with Moniuszko and Górecki as side-offerings.

Antoni Wit, © J. Multarzynski
Antoni Wit,
© J. Multarzynski

Stanisław Moniuszko’s overture for his opera Paria began the evening, a seductively melodic piece full of romantic energy which is seldom heard outside of its country of origin. Composed in the third of Poland which was ruled from Moscow in the early nineteenth century, it is treated there with much reverence, as are most of the composer’s other works, partly because of his associations with the artistic patriots of the day, like the national poet Adam Mickiewicz. Moniuszko’s statue stands in many Polish public parks. On this occasion, he was given a brisk but effective treatment.

The Mendelssohn was also subjected at first to a ‘business-like’ briskness, which in the Allegro detracted just a little from the grand passion: soloist Kuba Jakowicz did not soar completely with the melody at first, but soon established himself firmly with the quieter second theme alongside the woodwinds. It was only in the Andante that he reached a state of excellence, when the familiar lyrical beauty was revealed in full. Then Jakowicz used all of the opportunities provided by the third movement to display his virtuosity. It was champagne time: we were provided with an elegantly joyous conclusion. Wuthering Heights came to my mind, probably because I had seen Andrea Arnold’s harsh, new, non-romantic version in this same town hall as part of the Leeds Film Festival not long before the concert. Here was the sublime music to balance it, composed more or less in Emily Brontë’s time, by one of a family of geniuses, just like the Brontës.

Henryk Górecki’s Three Pieces in the Old Style were (for me) finished far too soon, but their style will not have come as a complete surprise for admirers who have heard only his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, with their liturgical connections and rich, orchestral sonorities, though they are less melancholy. Composed for strings, which are said to be the main strength of this orchestra, and which were at their freshest after the interval, the Three Pieces have some of the feel of early music, and would have become mesmerisng if they had lasted longer. I particularly liked the second one, with its folk-dance rhythm. The pieces had a programming function comparable to that which might be provided by, say, a set of Bruckner motets: a brief dose of religiosity, from a committed composer who threw in his job in protest at the Polish government’s refusal to allow Pope John Paul II into the country in 1979. We need more Górecki in future concerts, enough of his work to show his range.

Emily Brontë’s favourite composer, Beethoven, provided the climax to the evening. Conductor Antoni Wit prevented the ageless Fifth Symphony from being stuck in a glue of too much stateliness. The tempo was allegro, with a generous helping of brio, and the result was a magnificently bracing tempest being negotiated with a grimmer than usual determination. The second movement was also faster than I have often heard it, its processional section designed for spritely young people. All the proper excitements were stimulated, or rather detonated, in the third movement, with notably startling horns, and the final coda pounded home the triumphant message in a most satisfying way.

The "jeszcze raz" pieces were Brahms’s first and fifth Hungarian Dances.