Classical Wicherek performs with finesse

Wicherek performs with finesse

Polish pianist Joanna Wicherek made her South African debut in the Rhodes Chapel with a recital that featured four Polish composers. An accomplished musician, Wicherek is to be congratulated for introducing contemporary Polish art music to South African audiences, including Paweł Mykieten’s (b. 1971) substantial electro-acoustic composition, Epiphora (1996). An exciting addition to the Festival’s art music repertory, here, an electronically generated sound-track and solo pianist perform simultaneously, and in this instance, certain tones played on the piano are electronically manipulated by the pianist.  

Joanna Wicherek (photo supplied

Joanna Wicherek (photo supplied

Opening the recital with Mykietyn’s Four Preludes (1992), Wicherek immediately asserted her affinity for 20th-century piano literature. This intense rendition showcased Wicherek’s formidable technical and musical prowess, especially noticeable in her application of multiple tonal pianissimo shadings and control over sudden fiery fortissimo martellato outbursts. Wicherek showed her mettle as she projected thematic interpolations across a thick, busy texture with artistic poise and expressive meaning. Here, Wicherek showcased articulation differentiation with aplomb, and exuded phenomenal discipline in allowing expressive “space” for harmonics to provide evocative acoustic commentary.

This work was followed by contrasting realisations of Poland’s national dance, the mazurka: Frederick Chopin’s Romantic representations of the mazurka, and Karol Szymanowski’s mazurka-styled interpretation influenced through early 20th-century musical consciousness.

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Wicherek’s performance of two Mazurkas, drawn from Szymanowski’s set of 20 (1924-1931), highlighted her empathy for the idiom as the winding melodies and austere tonal language were treated with musical understanding. Through sensitive tonal control, imaginatively and expressively shaped phrases, and fine attention to detail, Wicherek’s interpretation conveyed an inspired sense of musical characterisation.

Three Mazurkas drawn from Chopin’s oeuvre – Op 24/2, 41/2 and 56/2 – received a competent airing, but the high level of artistic engagement evident with Wicherek’s other repertoire was missing in these renditions. Despite conveying nationalistic fervour and revelling in the music’s dance elements, Wicherek needed to voice chordal passages with more care and allow for cantabile tone to penetrate the texture. Also, supple shaping of melodic lines with the left hand, and digital accuracy when performing sforzandi are areas that need reflexive consideration.

Trope (1986), a work that highlighted Paweł Szymanski’s (b. 1954) stylistic predilection for “surconventionalism” – music based in historical conventions but processed through a contemporary lens, allowed Wicherek to showcase her technical and artistic assurance over an intricate contemporary score. Notable was her brilliance in maintaining fiery momentum through the extended ostinato repetitions, where consistently applied articulation mingled with musical imagination.

Closing with Mykietyn’s Epiphora, Wicherek showed her expertise with the electro-acoustic compositional idiom. This work stretched the limits of “chamber music” interaction: timing, listening and perception. In all respects Wicherek excelled in allowing this work to come to life; her control in merging electronic and acoustic performance mediums to present a unified artistic image was quite phenomenal.

That Wicherek performed with such finesse is admirable, considering the under-par instrument provided for this occasion. Is it too much to ask Festival administrators to apply their minds and creatively solve the problem of providing a decent piano for the Rhodes Chapel concert venue? Is it not possible to move one of the two concert grand pianos positioned back stage at the Guy Butler Theatre to the Rhodes Chapel for the duration of the Festival? Festival administrators need to know that the piano currently in place in the Rhodes Chapel is a problem, and this is not doing the Festival’s reputation any good. Whatever the solution is, Festival administrators need to realise that the piano situation in the Rhodes Chapel cannot be ignored and urgent intervention is required.

Nevertheless, Wicherek’s recital should not be missed.

Joanna Wicherek, piano recital, Rhodes Chapel, Wednesday 9 July, noon

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