The Warsaw Voice » Stage & Screen » Monthly - November 3, 2015
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Music Festival Marks 50 Years
   
A crowd of music lovers from Poland and abroad descended on the southwestern city of Wrocław Sept. 6-19 for the annual Wratislavia Cantans international festival of oratorio and cantata music, which is now in its 50th year.

This year has been special for Wrocław, the capital of Poland’s southwestern Lower Silesia region, for two reasons: the 50th anniversary of the Wratislavia Cantans festival combined with the opening of the city’s new concert hall: the National Forum of Music.

The hall has more than 1,800 seats and is one of the most modern in Poland. Its acoustics can be configured to match the kind of music being performed. Thanks to this unique feature, both symphonic and rock concerts can be held—and will sound equally good—in the venue. The National Forum of Music includes three chamber music halls with equally good acoustics.

Most of this year’s Wratislavia Cantans festival concerts took place at the National Forum of Music, even though the festival has traditionally been closely associated with religious venues—oratorio and cantata music originated with such venues in mind.

The extensive program of this year’s festival included works by both old and contemporary masters. The festival’s artistic director, Giovanni Antonini, says the event is where “the past meets the future.” This year’s festival featured several concerts that were originally performed during the first Wratislavia Cantans festival in 1966.

The opening concert featured works by composers Mikołaj Zieleński, Krzysztof Penderecki and Andrzej Koszewski in a nod to festival founder Andrzej Markowski’s long-standing policy of combining early and modern pieces at Wratislavia Cantans.

Thanks to the new National Forum of Music venue, audiences could listen to works that would have been difficult to perform in a church. These included a moving performance by an Israeli symphony orchestra, a newcomer at Wratislavia Cantans, of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9. The festival closed with a powerful performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 by Poland’s National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jacek Kasprzyk and accompanied by several choirs joining forces.

The new concert hall makes it easy for Wrocław to invite the world’s best and biggest orchestras. Memorable performances this year included those of two Bach cantatas and Pergolesi’s Salve Regina by B’Rock (Belgian Baroque Orchestra Ghent). The beautiful voices of soprano Lenneke Ruiten and mezzo-soprano Wiebke Lehmkuhl were perfectly aligned and balanced, lending a fresh feel and joyfulness to the Baroque music.
No less remarkable were sonatas by Giovanni Battista Fontana and Francesco Rognoni performed by outstanding Baroque violin virtuoso Enrico Onofri. Other remarkable evenings featured Heinrich Biber’s Mystery Sonatas performed by Dmitry Sinkovsky—accompanied by an orchestra and actor Jerzy Trela, who read passages from the Bible—and Marcel Peres, who redefined the perception of medieval and Renaissance music.

Meanwhile, the festival’s former longtime director Tadeusz Strugała, now celebrating his 80th birthday, conducted an orchestra performing Mikołaj Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 and Johannes Brahms’s Symphony No. 1. It was remarkable to see just how much youthful enthusiasm and energy this veteran conductor still has despite his age.

The festival’s current artistic director Giovanni Antonini and the Il Giardino Armonico ensemble, supported by the National Forum of Music Choir, gave a performance of Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor. Anna Prohaska stood out among the soloists, who were well matched to the other performers.

Overall, this year’s anniversary festival included many attractive concerts that appealed to various tastes. Most of the concerts were of high quality and the great acoustics of the National Forum of Music provided an additional incentive for the musicians to put in some sterling performances and provide audiences with memorable musical moments.

Adam Rajczyba