Krzysztof Penderecki is one of those composers known more for his reputation than for his actual music. I seldom see his music in any programs, and indeed, I don’t recall ever hearing his work live in a program myself.
This morning he brought his second violin concerto to Salzburg’s Great Festival House, for a performance by the Mozarteum Orchestra and soloist Leticia Moreno. He conducted himself.
His music is reminiscent of warmed-over Schostakowitsch, and in the case of this particular work, Schostakowitsch’s cello concerto. Maybe less-edgy and less-original, but nevertheless quite pleasant enough structured as variations morphing without breaks for about forty minutes. Moreno made her Salzburg debut last Fall with some spectacular playing in front of the Cadaqués Orchestra, and it helped Penderecki that he had her to interpret today. She handled all of the tones he required, compfortable in every idiom from lyrical to frenetic, with a wide range (indeed, she beautifully hit notes I thought were above the violin’s register). She did not have the biggest sound today, sometimes being overwhelmed by the orchestra in the larger passages. The audience really would have appreciated an encore (unfortunately we did not get one).
After the intermission, Pederecki returned to the podium for Beethoven‘s seventh symphony. He chose to do this with a greatly-reduced orchestra, barely larger than a chamber group. If his own concerto had been a mellowed version of Schostakowitsch’s, then his Beethoven 7 was a mellowed version of Beethoven 7. The performance lacked the necessary exuberance, except maybe in the slow movement (which he performed too quickly and with too much staccato). Penderecki mostly used only one arm at a time when he conducted, with brief overlaps as he shifted from one to the other every few measures. I did not quite get the concept, and the orchestra may not have either (certainly the horns were a total mess of confusion in the first movement, although they got their bearings as the symphony went on).