The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: Two striking concertos characteristic of Penderecki’s later, post-modernist style
Musicians: Grigori Zhislin (viola) Tatiana Vasilieva (cello) Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Antoni Wit
Composer: Penderecki

Penderecki opens his 1983 Viola Concerto in a strikingly intense manner, with the orchestra answered by the solo viola  using an emotionally turbulent and virtuosic style of expression. Grigori Zhislin has long been associated with the work, having given the first performance of the later chamber orchestra version (1985), and he is utterly familiar with the syntax, as demonstrated by his commanding, hauntingly powerful reading of the taxing solo part. Antoni Wit is equally steeped in this musical language, having studied composition with Penderecki, and he does a masterful job of steering the listener through the alternating moods of the concerto. Particularly bewitching are the shimmering timbral clusters of the Lento that enigmatically closes the work.

The tightly organised Second Cello Concerto is grey and melancholic in emotional tenor, with an ever-present Shostakovich-like element of protest and repression coursing under the surface, which Tatiana Vasilieva intuitively reflects. Renowned for her interest in 20th-century repertoire, Vasilieva delivers a perceptive and poignant  interpretation here. At the same time, she conquers the considerable technical demands with heroism, allowing the sense of struggle in the music to feed into the cello’s dialogue with the orchestra. Wit again evokes a raw and sometimes savage drama – the dissonances generate a sense of great anguish. These are wonderful performances captured in outstanding sound.

Joanne Talbot