Antoni Wit conducts Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony

Seldom you see his face on record covers, and on the stage you do not see his baton swings like a magic wand. But Antoni Wit’s firm grip of the performance is evident right from the moment he turns from the audience to the musicians.

Antoni Wit’s recording may have easily topped my “reviewed” chart this year; I have submitted reviews for his two Naxos releases, Leoš Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass and Taras Bulba, last year Mieczyslaw Karlowicz’s violin concerto, the Blu-ray audio releases of Karol Szynamowski’s Symphony Nos. 1 and 2 and the ICA release of the third and fourth (a very nice recording). The Krákow born conductor has an immense discography, from homelander’s Chopin, Penderecki, Lutoslawski to Russian Rachmaninov, Shostakovich and to gigantic Mahler and Messiaen. I just wonder what Mr. Wit will not do.

After Yundi Li opens The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra season, the second concert sees the famed Mr. Wit to conduct a lesser-known tone poem by César Franck, Le Chasseur maudit. With the music all in his head, he commands, in solid gesture, from memory. The orchestra sounds sturdy under the rock feast, and it turns out to be a fanfare under tight control.

Ingrid Fliter is the soloist for the Saint-Saëns’ second concerto. On the overal calm surface the undercurrent is strongly thrusting. The music is very well laid out, the balance of the glimmering quietness and outburst of bravura makes her a very unique concert pianist. Ms. Fliter may be very pleased with the concerto, as I very much do, and she gives an encore of Chopin D-flat major nocturne and, appeared not very satisfied with what is played, a D-flat major waltz in a speed that worthy of its very name.

The promotion leaflet for the concert features the iconic Napoleon Bonaparte.

None of the piece in the programme is Polish. I joked earlier to HKPO PR if the Beethoven third symphony is replaced by Szymanowski third, there may be only a few in the house instead of a totally packed sold-out. The crowd is attentive and enthusiastic, thanks to the solidly performed symphony. The opening movement is lively and well laid out. Less sturdy as it appears in the first piece, the exposition is crispy and energetic. The reading of melody may sound plain, the musical details, however, are treated with great attentions.

I am particularly happy with the scratching bass in the marcia funebre. This rawness is usually present only in recordings, and I would not expect to hear these deep low grace notes clearly in this notorious hall. The fugato at the end of the movement, however, fails to mount further pressure on the already heightened tension in the music. The scherzo begins with bouncy strings that are very well articulated. Mr. Wit makes it light-hearted rather than ironic.

The finale begins immediately with that famous downpour of crazily running strings. The pizzicato variation theme is, curiously, cut short by a much early entry of arco in bar 20, instead of arco reserved for the first forte of the main theme in bar 36. The most curious thing is, the arco in bar 20 is replaced by pizzicato quickly, in bar 31. I have never heard such rendition on recordings, and consulting the Bärenreiter at home has no avail.

Beside the musical surprise, the performance is solid and energetic. Mr. Wit’s gesture is economical, yet he is effective in carrying out the lines that he wishes to emphasise. Particularly lovely and sorely beautiful is the woodwind quartet in the beginning of the long-winded coda, which is one of the most classical moments for the now completed woodwind section in the 18th century symphonic repertoire. And by that very lovely and gently performed section, the woodwind may have redeemed themselves from some noticeable scars earlier on.

Date: September 15, 2012
Venue: Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Photo © J. Multarzynski

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