Sunday, March 30, 2014

Penderecki in Mexico

I was lucky to attend the Orquesta Filarmonica de la UNAM concert Saturday night in Mexico City. The guest conductor was Krzysztof Penderecki, who brought several  of his works, as well as some other concert gems to the stage.
Serving as a tribute to John Paul II, the Chaconne from the Polish Requiem was arranged in 2005 for strings. It is deeply touching and lyrical. The strings of the OFUNAM were very responsive, and sensitive solos from the principals were delightful.
Joining the group in the next two selections was flutist Massimo Mercelli - a giant of musicality and physical presence. The Sinfonietta #2 by Penderecki received its Mexico premiere in grand style. Listeners may know the Clarinet Quartet, where this piece has its origins, but the fresh arrangement increases the drama and sombre tone of this work.
Mercelli and Penderecki with OFUNAM
Contrasting these pieces was a real classical charmer, the D major Flute  Concerto by Franz Pokorny - once thought to be written by Luigi Boccherini. Mercelli showed great poise, and technique - never too flashy, but always on the front of the ensemble. Colors in the adagio were brilliant, and the rondo, while overly simplistic, made one smile.
Massimo treated the audience afterwards to a gift of Debussy's Syrinx as an encore - complete with gorgeous hues and ample dynamics. Unfortunately at the very end an usher's walkie talkie added to the otherwise glorious performance.
The second half was my favorite Dvorak Symphony - Number 7 in d minor. Now the full orchestra was on stage - one that I have been fortunate to hear now over the lastfew weeks.  I heard new things in this performance, which is almost always a good sign!
Penderecki did not use a baton (the last time I saw him in person was with the Philadelphia Orchestra) and while I had known for him to use his left hand (like Donald Runnicles) throughout the evening, the beats were directed with either hand, wherever the melody needed it, left or right.
The opening two movements were less focused, some ensemble and intonation problems with the strings and winds, but the lines were sometimes blurred. Other times in the Allegro maestoso and poco adagio, the excitement was obvious.
The scherzo was much more defined and bouncing rhythms shone - the finale sizzled and kept your toe tapping.
Penderecki and Clare backstage
Many curtain calls, a standing ovation, and flowers (from the orchestra and audience!) really expressed the appreciation that we had for Maestro Penderecki. At 80, he is still creating and inspiring music. He received a few friends and fans afterwards. I was happy to catch up with him - he even remembered our interview a few years ago.
There is another performance today at 12pm at Sala Nezahualcoyotl, UNAM, I highly recommend it.

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