The Warsaw Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra travelled to London in great numbers for their tour of the UK. The programme we were offered tonight, with Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater and Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9, was performed in Cardiff, London, Basingstoke and will receive another outing on the 22nd in Bristol. Their performance at Cadogan Hall had outstanding moments but overall felt unremarkable.

Jacek Kaspszyk © Juliusz Multarzynski
Jacek Kaspszyk
© Juliusz Multarzynski
The program itself was not at fault, as both Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater and Beethoven’s Ninth are always pleasant to hear live. Szymanowski’s setting of the Stabat Mater hymn is one of his most famous works, and rightly so. Unorthodox in its use of the Polish translation rather than the original 13th century Latin, Szymanowski composed the work in 1926. Consisting of six movements, the music is solemn, appropriately to its subject: Mary’s mourning Christ’s death. The Warsaw Philharmonic approached the music thus, and the opening of the Stabat Mater was both warm and weighty, carrying the burden of the subject matter.

All the more surprising was Wioletta Chodowicz’s performance. Her soprano voice is full-bodied, but Chodowicz used excessive vibrato, and her voice sounded strained throughout the Szymanowski. Even more out of place, however, were her facial expressions, as throughout the piece Chodowicz appeared to have a smile on her face. It is a strange experience to see a soprano sing “O how sad and sore distressed was that Mother” with a joyful expression. The contrast with other soloists Hannah Pedley and Paul Carey Jones was significant, as Pedley offered a melancholic interpretation, helped by her rich, calm voice, and Carey Jones’ reading of the second, fifth and sixth movements was compellingly performed. The duets between Chodowicz and Pedley in the third and fourth movements were a curious spectacle to watch; their voices sounded quite nice together, but the disparity in performance was difficult to ignore.

The performance was salvaged by the extraordinary Warsaw Philharmonic Choir. They performed passionately, carrying the music to great heights, particularly in the second half of the Stabat Mater. Conductor Jacek Kaspszyk maintained a great balance between orchestra, soloists and choir, allowing the overall sound to remain crisp and clear. The performance as a whole did not really take off, however, and at the end of the Stabat Mater I was left dissatisfied, as such an intense piece deserves an equally dedicated interpretation from all performers involved.

After a break we returned to the Cadogan Hall for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, an eternal favourite of the concert halls. Kaspszyk and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra were committed to a solid reading of the symphony, and the opening of the first movement already promised an entertaining performance. This promise was certainly fulfilled, and in the second movement the orchestra first showed what they truly turned out to excel out: the energetic, rhythmically powerful scherzos. The third movement was decent but failed to impress, and it was not until the soloists (the three aformentioned singers were joined by tenor Andrew Rees) and chorus joined the orchestra that the music became gripping once more. The finale was, of course, glorious, and thankfully it is hard to hold on to the disappointment of the Szymanowski performance when faced with Beethoven’s setting of Schiller’s Ode to Joy