The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra presented a variety of styles and periods in their appearance at the National Concert Hall, which is in contrast to the typical themed Friday night programmes of the RTE National Symphony Orchestra. The mix of Bernstein, Szymanowski, Glass and Schubert promised an eclectic premiere appearance for the orchestra. Jacek Kaspszyk held the baton and was joined by Agata Szymczewska on solo violin for the Philip Glass Violin Concerto No.1.
Bernstein’s Candide overture is as bombastic as one could hope for with massive swells, impressive brass and a tempo even faster than usual. A real tour-de-force, energy pours from the stage, setting an extremely high precedent for the night to come. Brilliantly executed woodwind lines contrast with brass explosions and driving strings.
The Szymanowski Concert Overture maintains energy levels but with an entirely different atmosphere. The orchestra is composed and refined with moments of brightness shining through lighter melodic sections. Kaspszyk shows his experience maintaining complete control through effortless minimal movements, small gestures and expressions showing the mood of the piece. The orchestra responds to this with alacrity, displaying trust in his interpretation and style. The result: a passionate and evocative performance full of colour and character.
Onto the stage comes Szymanowski for the concerto. From her first entry she displays virtuosic flexibility with her Stradivarius reacting to every touch. Her communication with Kaspszyk and the orchestra shows her award winning chamber music experience. She brings the orchestra on a journey through vast musical landscapes, even through the limiting minimalism of Glass, and the orchestra keeps up, further energising Szymczewska through their light pulsing rhythms and mysterious brass entries.
Szymczewska does not steal the spotlight, seeming content to share power with the deserving orchestra. Just as her green dress perfectly matches the surroundings, she seems a part of the ensemble: at times leading as necessary, and blending when the music calls for it—something not many soloists manage. The effect is of both overpowering beauty and touching warmth. After the last notes fade away there is a lengthy pause showing the affect the music has had on the audience before a roaring applause for the artists.
For an encore, Szymczewska returns and takes her position beside the harpist Giedre Siaulyte for a short duet. Unfortunately there is no spotlight and we are left with a feeling of disconnectedness due to the divide caused by the orchestra. The music makes up for this, a touching few minutes where again the soloist shows her willingness to work on equal terms with another. Adding to the intimacy, the audience sighs as, in a spontaneous post-Valentines gesture, Siaulyte blushingly accepts a single red rose from an audience member.
It is during the Schubert Symphony No.9: ‘The Great’ that the orchestra shows its true expressive capabilities. Every section shows versatility by eschewing stereotypes—the brass have a warm, sweet sound unachievable even by many professional orchestras, the woodwind at times flighty and others unrelenting, bringing significance to often overlooked lines and moments. There are some exemplary solos throughout the orchestra. Impressively, Kaspszyk conducts scoreless, adding to the intensity of the performance and making for a natural musical experience.
Even with all these excellent performers the string section shines through. When there were full wind and brass threatening to steal the limelight, their sheer energy and power maintained the strings’ position as the focal point. The 56 musicians, led by Piotr Tarcholik, plus woodwind and brass brought the symphony to new heights and made the Schubert come to life.