BPO celebrates Dyngus Day a bit late, but in great style, Jan Jezioro, Artvoice

The next Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra concerts on Friday April 24 at 10:30am and Saturday April 25 at 8pm will offer an all-Polish program, featuring the Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor by Chopin, a perennial favorite, with the dynamic young Korean pianist Yoonie Han as soloist, as well as two BPO premieres, the Horn Concerto, “Winterreise” by the contemporary composer Krzysztof Penderecki with BPO principal French Horn player Jacek Muzyk as soloist, and the lush Symphonic Prologue to “Bianca de Molena” by the late Romantic composer Mieczyslaw Karlowicz.

The BPO and its music director JoAnn Falletta have been on roll this spring, producing some of the most successively exciting concert programs in years. The two part Beethoven mini-festival was highlighted by a very effective staging of the composer’s complete incidental music to Egmont which featured a dramatically gripping performance by the Buffalo actor Matthew Witten as the Narrator, with the young soprano Emily Helenbrook offering wonderfully lyric performances of the work’s songs.

The subsequent pair of BPO concerts devoted to the music of Charles Ives, a genuine American original, successfully built upon this energy. These concerts were a fitting capstone to a full week of events devoted to the composer, involving the Burchfield Penny Art Center, the members of the Department of Music of the University at Buffalo, LehrerDance, the Harmonia Chamber Singers and the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, demonstrating a collective synergy that results in the kind of unforgettable cultural experience that all too rarely ever occurs. This weekend’s concerts should continue this streak.

Back in March 1968, then music director Lukas Foss led the BPO in performances of a pair of works by Penderecki, the Capriccio for Violin and Orchestra and De Natura Sonoris. The works were recorded and released the next year on the Nonesuch record label, becoming one of the BPO’s first national record releases. Earlier, in 1965, Foss had led the BPO premiere of Penderecki’s uncompromisingly searing Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, the work that launched his career. Julius Rudel led a repeat performance of the piece in 1983, marking the last time that one of the prolific composer’s works appeared on a BPO program, so this weekend’s performances of Penderecki’s 2008 Horn Concerto, “Winterreise”, a work which has been described as offering “an evocative landscape, glacial, powerful, yet wistful” is especially welcome.

Penderecki’s publisher, the venerable German company Schott, notes that “Despite its familiar title, Krzysztof Penderecki has made it clear that his Horn Concerto ‘Winterreise’ has nothing to do with Schubert. Instead, he conjures up a winter journey of his own, since he composed this colorful concerto in the winter of 2007 during several trips to China and South America. At the same time, Penderecki’s first solo work for brass instruments was also inspired by the traditional sound of the bugle.”

Krzysztof Penderecki had rapidly gained an international reputation as one of the most avant-garde composers in Eastern Europe in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but he abandoned his early style completely by the 1980s, and adopted a more accessible style. “The avant-garde gave one an illusion of universalism. The musical world of Stockhausen, Nono, Boulez and Cage was for us, the young—hemmed in by the aesthetics of socialist realism, then the official canon in our country—a liberation…I was quick to realize however, that this novelty, this experimentation and formal speculation, is more destructive than constructive; I realized the Utopian quality of its Promethean tone,” and he said that he was “saved from the avant-garde snare of formalism by a return to tradition.”

Information: 885-5000 or www.bpo.org