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A fine sound

A concert by the
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra makes a fine sound -- the smoothness of the woodwind was particularly evident at the start of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet, as was the firm but also transparent string sonority. The first appearance of the love theme had a particularly piquant darkness, coloured to just the right degree by the cor anglais. Sadly, polished orchestral sound seems to have been conductor Gabriel Chmura's main preoccupation. The final chords of Romeo and Juliet sounded oddly diffuse and not at all tragic.

Igor Tchetuev, fourth prize-winner at the 2003 Leeds competition, had an uphill struggle to inject any sense of fun into Saint-Saëns's Piano Concerto No 2. His big opening solo had commanding power and authority, and his lucid finger-work was a delight throughout. But the central scherzo, light and nimble though it was from both soloist and orchestra, was rather unsmiling. A somewhat steadier tempo might have helped give the rhythms the lift and bounce they need.

But it was the performance of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique which really put the dampers on the evening. To turn in a reading of such extraordinary dullness -- in this of all pieces! -- was just plain perverse. Again, no complaints about the playing on a technical level (give or take the odd horn fluff), but as far as any emotional commitment went it simply didn't catch fire. The E flat clarinet solo in the finale, nowhere near vulgar enough, was all too symptomatic.

Members of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Members of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra

Then came the encore, the Mazurka from Moniuszko's opera Halka. Suddenly they were a different orchestra, playing with all the fire and commitment missing earlier. Why?

Copyright © 8 October 2005 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


The concert reviewed took place at the Assembly Rooms, Derby, UK, on 4 October 2005.

The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra is touring the UK until 16 October, and appears tonight (Saturday 8 October 2005) at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury, as part of the Canterbury Festival, playing Berlioz, Sibelius and Lutoslawski, then at North Wales Theatre, Llandudno (Sunday 9 October), City Hall, Hull (Monday 10), Usher Hall, Edinburgh (Tuesday 11), Town Hall, Middlesbrough (Thursday 13), Sands Centre, Carlisle (Friday 14), Leeds Town Hall (Saturday 15) and The Cliffs Pavilion, Southend (Sunday 16 October 2005).

Back in Poland, Gabriel Chmura and the orchestra will accompany the prizewinner of this year's Chopin International Piano Competition in the first or second Chopin concerto, and play Beethoven and Bartók, on 28 October 2005 at Grzegorz Fitelberg Concert Hall, Upper Silesia Cultural Centre, Katowice. Further details of these and concerts later in the orchestra's new season are available at

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