me, you may not have heard of Rafał Kwiatkowski, but he
has already made an international name for himself, winning
a number of big international competitions, touring widely and
working closely with Penderecki on new works such as a cello
version of his Viola Concerto. He is also a thinking
musician, as his excellent booklet notes for this CD amply prove.
Kwiatkowski’s musical horizons are wide, embracing chamber music
and a diversity of genres. Concerning Shostakovich he is on
record as saying “elegance is not always the goal. Shostakovich,
which has so much energy, doesn’t have to be beautiful; it must
be violent.” In terms of recording as opposed to live performance
there is no difference: “I like to record,” he says. “What I
like is that we can play the piece as many times as we want
to get what we want. Sometimes when you listen to a live performance
and a recording, the piece has a different life. But I put in
the same emotion when I record and when I play. I never feel
impassive or indifferent at a recording session.”
by the results on this disc, he can easily make his point. These
recordings have a ‘live’ quality, while at the same time being
spotless studio tapings. The Polish Radio Orchestra is a crack
team, and give their all for their artistic director Wojciech
Rajska. The orchestra has a glossy string sound, nicely tuned
winds and brass, and a sensitivity to colour which adapts to
the mood of the music – acidic and punchy to rounded and mellow,
while never quite losing that edgy sense of danger in Shostakovich’s
Witold Lutosławski Studio must be a large space, as the
acoustic is pleasantly resonant. The balance, often difficult
in these concertos, favours the soloist as one might expect,
but the musicians are realistically matched, and the solo cello
mixes in with the orchestra at tutti passages in much the same
way as it would in the concert hall.
very recently encountered the Cello Concerto No.1 as
played by Han-Na
Chang I was a bit concerned that my ears might find it
hard to accept yet another new version, but in this case I warmed
immediately to Kwiatkowski’s style and musicality. No, he is
not as ‘in your face’ and spectacular, but that is not always
what you want. Neither is he safe and pedestrian – he doesn’t
sound as if he’s taking risks, but that’s what happens
if you are good enough. I have to admit, I have heard the second
Moderato movement more emotional and involving, but this
is certainly a version I could take onto my desert island without
feeling I was missing too much – with this kind of music, it’s
your own mood which often dictates your response, and either
way it’s not so much Kwiatkowski who is reserved, more the orchestra.
The cadenza is poetic and nicely shaped, Kwiatkowski showing
that it’s not all violence – his lyrical playing in this and
the second concerto is second to none.
the first concerto is excellent, the Cello Concerto No.2
is more the star on this disc. I found my tear ducts being
tugged right from the start, with that grim darkness shot through
with genuine passion and human emotion. Kwiatkowski’s deep,
rich tone lives and breathes through the entire range of his
instrument, and the orchestra seems to respond to his eloquence.
This concerto is often seen as the more ‘difficult’ of the two,
but with this combination all of the intellectual challenges
seem to fall away, leaving deeply moving music played with convincing
warmth and commitment. There is a pay-off for this of course.
All of Shostakovich’s little colours and digs are present, but
in what is essentially a romantic reading the sharper edges
of the composer’s dry, almost deprecating wit do become chamfered
a little. Take the second Allegretto movement: surely
we’ve heard those string pizzicati with more grit and drive?
Indeed, but the movement builds with organic power, and with
titanic blasts from the double-bassoon the true business of
the movement shows genuine impact.
at the final Allegretto, the horn-calls near the opening
are a little recessed, and might have been a little wilder.
Once the meat of the movement kicks in however, so again do
those goose-pimples. Kwiatkowski revels in these most expressive
of melodic lines, singing them with personality and a sense
of freedom without distorting their shape with irritating mannerisms
or attempts to ‘improve’ on the intentions of the composer.
conclude, this recording is one for the long term – one with
which to live. It may not have the punishing grit of some: the
hair-raising climaxes are proportionate, but might not take
you out of your comfort zone in the same way as others. There
is nothing essentially missing however, and the synergy between
soloist and orchestra is impeccable. Rafał Kwiatkowski
is something a bit special, and lifts these recordings from
being just very good to being ones with which you will be reluctant