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The Warsaw Voice » Stage & Screen » October 1, 2010
Bittersweet Symphony
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Bittersweet Symphony
October 1, 2010   
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This year’s 45th Wratislavia Cantans festival in Wroc³aw Sept. 4 to 12 closed with Hector Berlioz’s monumental Grande Messe des Morts, conducted by Paul McCreesh, the festival’s artistic director.

The first of the festival’s 27 concerts featured the music of J.S. Bach, whose work lends itself perfectly to a festival that celebrates oratorio and cantata music. The audience heard his Mass in B Minor interpreted by Philippe Herreweghe and Collegium Vocale Gent. Beautiful and a little contemplative, their rendition was filled with subtle tones. Herreweghe has for years been known for his understated conducting style. Like a catalyst, he releases the best in performers. Personally, I was most enchanted by the beautifully sung Agnus Dei.

On the second day of the festival, Trevor Pinnock, a harpsichord player, performed Bach’s partita no. 6 and several minor works by Louis Couperin and Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre. Captivated by his energy and virtuosity, the audience persuaded Pinnock to play three encores. The feast of Bach music culminated in the Akademie für Alte Musik from Berlin playing Kunst der Fuge, a quintessential fugue piece.

The days that followed took listeners back to the present day musically which, as Wratislavia Cantans founder Andrzej Markowski put it, counterbalances the sounds of previous centuries. Polish audiences were introduced to Stara Ljubljana, a cantata by Tedji Vulc, and then they heard the popular Dance Suite by Bela Bartók. Two days later, Antoni Wit conducted Krzysztof Penderecki’s Morning Prayer which sounded splendid in the acoustically difficult interior of Mary Magdalene’s Church.

The Wroc³aw Opera was a less fortunate choice as a venue for work by Jean-Baptiste Lully, Rossi, Francois Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau, performed with historical accuracy by Skip Sempé and his Capriccio Stravagante Orchestra. A better choice would have been the Oratorium Marianum. The Wroc³aw Opera, in turn, would have been much more suitable for the concert which on the following day took place at the Philharmonic. Featuring the favorite operas of Frederic Chopin, the concert was a nod to the Year of Chopin.

Marc Minkowski, who came to Wratislavia Cantans for the first time, conducted excerpts from Don Giovanni by Mozart, Robert the Devil by Giacomo Meyerbeer, Cinderella and William Tell by Gioacchino Rossini and The Puritans by Vincenzo Bellini. Minkowski conducted with verve and positive energy. The concert was performed by Sinfonia Varsovia with soloists Henrietta Bonde-Hansen (soprano), Francois Lis (baritone) and Piotr Pieron (bass).

While the musical side of the festival was a success, there were some jarring notes caused by financial problems, which McCreesh remarked on just before he signed a contract to become the festival’s artistic director for several more years. One can only hope that no political game playing will affect the quality and reputation of Wratislavia Cantans.

Adam Rajczyba
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