Saturday 28 September 2013

The Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra at the BBC Proms

On the evening of Friday 23rd August 2013 I attended Prom 55 of the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London featuring the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Antoni Wit and pianist Alexander Melnikov. This was the Proms debut of the Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit in his final concert as the orchestra's Artistic Director.

The programme consisted of Concerto for Orchestra - Lutoslawski, Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major - Shostakovich, Tragic Overture - Panufnik, Lullaby - Panufnik and Symphony No. 6 in B minor - Shostakovich. These are landmark pieces by two of Poland's 20th-century greats along with a pair of works by Shostakovich.

Lutoslawski began the Concerto for Orchestra in 1950 as a request from the conductor Witold Rowicki for a new work for the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. The piece combines Polish folk styles with more modern compositional procedures. Rowicki directed the premiere in Warsaw on 26th November 1954.

Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 was composed in 1956-7 for his teenage son Maxim who premiered the work in Moscow on 10th May 1957. This was immediately before Shostakovich began work on his 11th Symphony and can be seen as a light hearted relaxation before that massive undertaking.

Tragic Overture was composed by Panufnik in 1942 and was a brutal, overtly violent piece which was a non-verbal protest against the occupying forces. Panufnik composed Lullaby in London in 1947 and is a rare combination of beauty and innovation.

Shostakovich's Symphony No. 6 was composed in 1939 and first performed in Leningrad on 21st November 1939 by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Yevgeny Mravinsky. Shostakovich said that the musical character of the Sixth Symphony was different from the mood and emotional tone of the Fifth Symphony, in which moments of tragedy and tension were characteristic. In the Sixth Symphony he wanted to convey the moods of spring, joy and youth.

This was a wonderful evening at the Royal Albert Hall as the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Antoni Wit gave us a brilliant performance of some very emotional pieces of music from Eastern Europe. There were some very dark sounds which set the mood for the performance. This was the perfect way for Antoni Wit to finish his twelve years as the Orchestra's Artistic Director.

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