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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » September 30, 2011
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Wratislavia Cantans 2011
September 30, 2011   
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The 46th Wratislavia Cantans festival in Wrocław drew huge audiences over three weekends in September.

The festival program was divided into three sections. The first, “Saints and Sinners,” focused on music from the Middle Ages, a time marked by a dichotomy of lofty music performed in churches and at court and the lustful and bawdy tradition of street performances. The second, most extensive section of the festival dealt with issues best illustrated by a quotation from a medieval Gregorian hymn: “Media vita in morte sumus” (In the midst of life we are in death). Finally, biblical characters were the focus on the third festival weekend.

The medieval section on the first festival weekend included a performance of the epic poem Beowulf by harpist Benjamin Bagby. Then, The Orlando Consort played a Parisian organum from the 13th century.

On the following weekend, the Stile Antico group from Britain performed a concert entitled Songs of Transience. The 13-strong ensemble astonished audiences with extraordinary sound, spot-on intonation, and their unity as they sang without a conductor. Their songs and the acoustics of the venue, the Holy Cross Collegiate Church, were a perfect match. However, the same venue later proved to be a bad choice for a recital by violinist Rachel Podger, whose beautiful renditions of Bach’s Sonata no. 2 in A Major, Biber’s Passacagli from Sonata no. 16 in G Major and Bach’s Partita no. 2 in D Minor could only be fully appreciated by listeners seated in the front row. In the center and at the back of the church, all the nuances and details of her interpretations were simply lost.

As every year, the festival’s director’s Gabrieli Consort ensemble delivered an a cappella concert. This time, they sang compositions by Gibbons, White, MacMillan, Elgar and Parry given the common title of Songs of Farewell—Music of Mourning and Consolation. Concerts dealing with transience and death were complemented by Krzysztof Penderecki’s Symphony No. 8 performed by Wrocław musicians conducted by Jacek Kasprzyk. The symphony is a highly interesting piece and compared to other works by Penderecki, it is remarkably accessible. The festival audiences also heard music by composer Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, who died last year. His most famous masterpiece, Symphony No. 3 of Sorrowful Songs, drew probably the largest audiences of this year’s Wratislavia Cantans concerts. Then, In Memoriam concerts marking the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks concluded the festival section devoted to the passing of time and life.

This year’s festival abounded in solo performances. Apart from Podger, the soloists included British oboist Nikolas Daniels, phenomenal Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud, who gave a stunning rendition of Eugene Ysaye’s sonatas for solo violin, and Pieter Wispelwey, a cello virtuoso who excels in both contemporary and historical pieces.

Wispelwey played cello suites by Benjamin Britten. Kraggerud and Wispelwey impressed listeners with both their performances and their knowledge and erudition, as during their recitals, they delivered theoretical lectures on the works they played.

This September saw the return of Gustav Leonhardt after a six-year absence from the festival. The Dutch harpsichord virtuoso, known for his historically accurate performances, played a selection of works by Tomkins, Couperin, Froberger, Fisher, Purcell and Bach. When he played, he seemed to be exploring realms which are unattainable by the average music lover.

Every year, the Wratislavia Cantans festival commissions several contemporary classical pieces and this year, there were two new ones. The first one, Lamentacje by Paweł Łukaszewski, was performed by the Wrocław Philharmonic Choir in an outdoor concert. The other, Phylakterion by Paweł Szymański, was sung by the Camerata Silesia Singers Ensemble conducted by Anna Szostak.

The festival closed with the grand Elijah oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy which featured soloists, the Gabrieli Consort & Players and the Wrocław Philharmonic Choir conducted by Paul McCreesh. As expected, the concert received a standing ovation. The solo parts were sung by Florian Boesch as the Prophet Elijah, tenor Robert Murray, soprano Lucy Crowe and mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg. The soloists captivated audiences with beautiful voices and their elaborate and dramatic expression.

Adam Rajczyba
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