On January 25, 2020, 6- time Grammy award winning conductor Giancarlo Guerrero, Music Director of the NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic, led the orchestra and Guest Pianist Piotr Anderszewski in a concert including works of composers Lutoslawski, Bartok and Brahms, and encores by Beethoven, Dvorak and Johann Strauss II, at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, Chicago, as part of the Symphony Center Presents Orchestras Series.
– Witold Lutosławski Symphonic Variations, 1937-38
The young composer began The Variations as a submission in graduate composition work, but his professor disapproved of them as “too modern”; he put the project aside until he recovered from a depression and completed some months of military service. Returning home, he quickly finished the piece and the premiere served as his “official debut”. It’s been said that the Variations show proof of his “early maturity, an ear for orchestral colour, and…symphonic instincts”.
The 10-minute piece consists of a simple folk theme presented as nine variations grouped in 4 sections. The melody appears with more or less sophisticated accompaniment achieved by orchestral groupings. A slow section is followed by a brighter, sprightly portion containing instrumental “dialogues”. Another slow section features a lovely flute solo. The dual thematic finale presents the original melody imitated by woodwinds and then solemnly rendered by the brass.
– Béla Bartók Piano Concerto No. 3 1945
Bartók, like Lutoslawski one of the finest composers of 20th century music, produced his final piano concerto at the very end of his life. After fleeing Nazi Europe, he and his wife lived- homesick for Hungary, poor and lonely-in New York. Failing from leukemia, he yet crafted a magnificent work that reflected joy, not despair; the last bars were finished by his student.
The first movement Allegretto is sweetly lyrical, even playful; Anderszewski deftly finessing the transition into the superb Adagio religious that follows. Beginning reverently, quietly, the pianist and orchestra climbed in intensity to a height of vibrant sound before falling back into a sense of majestic peace. The final Allegro vivace, built around a complex fugue, brought the concerto to a triumphant climax.
The NFM Wroclaw and Guest Pianist moved through the work forcefully, maintaining a folk-like, lilting and inspired melody, ending with a fulfilling sense of peace.
In encore, the pianist played Ludwig von Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 126 for solo piano, 1825, a set that he recorded in 2008 on Virgin Classics. The six “brief character pieces” were dedicated to the composer’s brother and are meant to be played in unison.
Anderszewski’s clear, peerless performance this evening, wonderfully concentrated, imbued with rhythmic variety and understated technique, brought the audience to rounds of applause.
– Johannes Brahms Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68, 1850’s-1876
The account of the First Symphony revealed a mature orchestra led by a conductor with unparalleled flair and passion, given to sweeping yet intimate gestures, confident and commanding, sans score.
Opening with a large, impressive introductory theme, the Allegro is energetic, the second theme fluidly building into an exciting rhythmic recapitulation. The slow movement was presented with finely controlled transitions, accented by a sensitive violin solo. The third movement, replete with balanced strings set off by well-modulated clarinets and oboes segued into the brooding, melancholy introduction to the finale, atmospheric and grand.
A generous double encore was quite possibly the most delightful example this reviewer has ever seen of a conductor as one with his orchestra. Guerrero actually directed the Philharmonic without hand gestures, with smiles, nods, postural shrugs, even arched eyebrows; it was moving to see his pride in their lively renditions of the 2 brief works:
– Antonin Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance No. 8, 1878
One of a series of 16 orchestral pieces, inspired by Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, No. 8 is strongly flavored by folk music; the dancing figures are happy and memorable.
-Johann Strauss, Jr. Thunder and Lightning Polka. 1868
This exuberant, engaging and droll 3-minute piece, originally called Shooting Stars, sparkles with verve, rumbling drums and crashing cymbals.
For all the fine programming of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, go to www.cso.org
All photos courtesy of The Chicago Symphony Orchestra unless otherwise noted.