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Zakopane On The Heights Chamber Music Festival (2) -  Mozart, Przybylski, Bruch: Piotr Lato, clarinet. Janusz Wawrowski, violin. Jakub Jakowicz, violin. Anna Maria Staśkiewicz, violin. Anita Wąsik, violin. Katarzyna Budnik, viola. Artur Rozmyswowicz, viola. Marcin Zdunik, cello. Rafal Kwiatkowski, cello. Janusz Widzyk, double bass. Holy Cross Church, Zakopane, Poland 22.9.2010 (LV)

Mozart: Clarinet Quintet K 581
Dariusz Przybylski
(born 1984): Eine kleine Morgenmusik, Opus 28 (2006)
Bruch: Octet, Opus Posthumous

Janusz Wawrowski


If you’ve never heard Max Bruch’s seriously retro, seriously beautiful Octet, you’ve been deprived of some very excellent mid to late 19th century pleasure. Composed and published after Bruch's death in 1920, the inevitable parallels with Mendelssohn's Octet written a century earlier only hint at its treasures. Substituting a double bass for the second cello (Bruch’s option) gives it a warmth and weight that the Mendelssohn and more conventional string octets (if there are such animals) often lack, and substantially increases the excitement quotient--provided the double bassist has the necessary chops to negotiate the numerous spotlighted opportunities and the first violinist has a virtuoso’s high-flying technique and outstanding leadership skills.

From the splendid viola solo opening the piece, played exquisitely by Katarzyna Budnik, to the non-stop thrills of the last movement, an Allegro molto highlighted by a surging second subject, first heard from the cello and then in various combinations with the two violas, that conjures up the famous theme from Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, Bruch’s musical inspiration never flags for even a bar. Hearing it performed by by a Zakopane festival ensemble which included, in addition to four of Poland’s leading young violinists, two members of the Lutoslawski Quartet Wroclaw and a double bassist in for the week from the Berlin Philharmonic, was like experiencing the rebirth of a masterpiece.

Although the Octet would seem to be a prime candidate for string orchestras looking to add something new to their repertoire, first violinist Janusz Wawrowski told me later that the demands made by the fast and furious passages could make life difficult, performed by more than one player to a part, for all but the most accomplished ensembles.

Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, opening the concert, received one of those performances that only a festival setting can elicit. When played by an established ensemble and even the greatest clarinetists, the music can sound so perfect that it takes on a sort of oxymoronically boring perfection.

No such problem with Piotr Lato and his colleagues who were complicit in a reading that not only allowed but seemed to encourage each player to play to their individual strengths and personalities, particularly cellist Marcin Zdunik who made his key solos in the first movement and the Menuetto’s second Trio moments of such astonishing spontaneity, complete with added ruffles and curlicues, that one could forgive the happy grins he shared with first violinist Jakub Jakowicz. Set angelically above the strings, clarinetist Lato gave a reading of seamless poetry and beauty, including giving full value to arpeggiated runs and dotted eighth notes in the last movement’s variations.

Separating Bruch and Mozart, Dariusz Przybylski's 10-minute exercise in whistling, sul ponticello tremolos and ghostly glissandos in the strings featured Lato in a solo role that ranged from heraldic calls recalling ancestors of the clarinet, like the Hungarian tarogato, to exquisitely delicate filigree.

Again, the strikingly modern and spiritually uplifting Holy Cross Church provided rich, clear acoustics. And once again, a large audience took advantage of the free admission, receiving for their enthusiasm an encore of the last few pages of the Bruch, including for one last time that gorgeous second subject.

Similar to the Aspen Music Festival, which has enhanced the visibility and fame of the Colorado resort where it takes place, On The Heights was founded by visionaries (Danuta and Tomasz Sztencel, and Tadeusz Deskiewicz) as a way of combining art and nature to foster the growth of the human spirit. Given the chamber music festival’s musical excellence and organizational structure and strengths, and the city of Zakopane’s pride and renown as an international sports center, it seems like an ideal partnership. And it’s never too early: After all, On The Height’s Aspen cousin started in 1949.

Laurence Vittes


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