Critic’s notebook

It’s hard to believe that the month is almost over. Music at CCM has been in full swing. Between my other concerts, I’ve managed to swing by for a few events, and here are some of my impressions, from chamber music to jazz.The Ariel Quartet

The Ariel Quartet
The Ariel Quartet

The crowd: I think nearly every seat in Corbett Auditorium, which seats about 720, was taken for the Ariel Quartet’s season opener early this month. The distinguished Quartet-in-Residence performed quartet’s by Beethoven and Jörg Widmann, and finished with Schumann’s Piano Quintet, featuring new faculty member Soyeon Kate Lee.

Hallmarks: I loved the way these musicians traded phrases in Beethoven’s Quartet No. 1 in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1. It was conversational, witty and vibrant. The Adagio was the picture of beautiful singing line and depth of feeling. The German word “himmlisch” (heavenly) came to mind.

Widmann’s “Hunting Quartet” No. 3 was a great find and highly theatrical. In this, the “hunt” is turned around so that one of the players (the unlucky cellist) becomes “the hunted.” The players yelled, and used a variety of effects such as col legno and slapping strings. I enjoyed that the composer borrowed a theme known to many pianists from Schumann’s Papillons.

The highlight: Schumann’s gorgeous Piano Quintet. Lee’s technique was bravura and her touch was never harsh. The players gave it an affectionate performance.

CCM’s Polish Festival

Bravo to CCM, and particularly to Philharmonia maestro Mark Gibson and sponsors Judith Heiny and Piotr Chomczynski for bringing some wonderful Polish literature to light. So far, I managed to visit two concerts in the month-long festival. It ends this weekend with a blockbuster concert, including Szymanowski’s Symphony No. 3 and Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima.

Sept. 17: I attended the CCM Concert Orchestra, led by Aik Khai Pung. The program included Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1, performed by student concerto winner Dobin Park, and Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” of 1977.

How stunning it was to hear Gorecki’s mournful but beautiful Third Symphony, with soprano Claire Lopatka as a richly expressive soloist. (You might recall the 1992 Nonesuch recording with David Zinman and Dawn Upshaw, which surprisingly was a smash hit — even on the pop charts — and listed by BBC Music as one of the 10 discs of the decade.)

Soloist Claire Lopatka with conductor Aik Khai Pung
Soloist Claire Lopatka with conductor Aik Khai Pung

As a composer, Gorecki is often described as in the mystical-minimalist school. He grew up near the town that became known under its German name, Auschwitz. Gorecki said his symphony began in memory of those victims, but became a memorial for all suffering. Its texts begin with a setting of a 15th century Polish prayer, the Holy Cross Lament. The performance by the CCM students was mesmerizing and quite beautiful.

Anna VanMatre's Metamorphoses-Fire behind the CCM Concert Orchestra
Anna VanMatre’s Metamorphoses-Fire behind the CCM Concert Orchestra

Highlight: Behind the orchestra was a giant reproduction of Polish-born artist Anna VanMatre’s “Metamorphoses-Fire,” which she created in honor of Penderecki’s 80th birthday. The original hangs in the Krakow Philharmonic Hall.

Sept. 18: The next night was a completely different vibe, as the CCM Faculty Jazztet, the CCM Jazz Orchestra under director Scott Belck and Polish jazz star Wlodek Pawlik took the stage for an evening of jazz. Pawlik is the first Polish jazz artist to receive a Grammy, and the program was a bit of a retrospective of his music. He is an endlessly inventive composer and a pianist of enormous versatility. (Earlier, he told me he admired Bill Evans and Chick Corea — Corea incidentally will be at Xavier on Oct. 8.) I loved his “Not Samba,” a swinging, exotic number with a terrific trumpet solo. Pawlik had just the right touch in a gorgeous performance of Black Orpheus, with the Jazztet, stunning musicians all.






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