Music / Aleksandra Swigut with the Orava Quartet. At James O Fairfax Theatre, NGA, November 9. Reviewed by SARAH EC BYRNE.
THE Friends of Chopin were hosts to this lovely concert in the inaugural “Paderewski Tour”, supported by the Polish embassy.
The tour is a hat tip to the great Polish pianist and composer (and erstwhile prime minister) who toured Australia in 1904, and was often billed as Chopin’s natural successor.
There was no actual Paderewski on the bill, but several tributes to Poland – in particular the wonderful pianist Aleksandra Swigut, in her own first tour of Australia.
Swigut has built a stellar international reputation as an interpreter of Chopin, particularly on historical instruments. This time it was a modern grand piano, in the small but perfectly-formed James O Fairfax Theatre at the NGA.
She was supported by the Brisbane-based Orava Quartet, four beautifully co-ordinated young men who thoroughly justified their growing reputation with a tight and spirited delivery of Penderecki’s 2008 String Quartet No 3, a frenetic, syncopated piece that, for me, was the standout of the evening.
They completed the first half of the evening’s entertainment with Kilar’s Polish dance-inspired “Orawa” – hoppy, happy and received by the audience with obvious delight.
This takes nothing away from the main feature, and second half of the program, Swigut’s impassioned and nuanced performance of Chopin’s angsty “Piano Concerto No 1 in E minor”.
I am mainly familiar with the orchestral version of this work, which has been criticised by some on the basis that the orchestrations do not live up to the richness and beauty of the piano part.
In my view it is improved by the transcription for string quintet (Canberra’s own Max McBride joining Orava on double bass as if he’d been working with them all his life).
In this version the piano absolutely shines, and Swigut thrilled us with almost harp-like glissandos and cadences delivered with such flourish that I thought she might not retain her seat. The second movement in particular was almost impossibly romantic and gorgeous.
The venue is small, but was close to full, and the Friends of Chopin and Polish community were evidently out in force, with much socialising taking place, adding to the overall charm of the evening.
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