The Górecki Orchestra at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, Łukasz Filipczak – piano, Michał Ćwiżewicz, Patrycja Mynarska, Duncan Commin, Victoria Bernatg, Mario Torres, Benjamin Havas.Below: Łukasz Filipczak – piano and Piotr Gach – cello
On October 18, I entered St. Martin-in-the-Fields next to Traphalgar Square for one of the free Lunchtime Concert Series performances knowing I would hear something good but unprepared for the magnificence of the Górecki Chamber Orchestra and its program of Polish music. Like other members of the audience, I was astounded.
The Górecki Chamber Orchestra is dedicated to Polish music, past and present, and specifically to the music of Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (1933-2010) but also performs composers of other nationalities and from various periods. The group of thirteen string players and pianist that make up the GCO is relatively new on the music scene but already making its mark for the good reasons indicated by this concert. The group bears the endorsement of Górecki’s widow and is supported by the Polish Cultural Institute in London. The GCO was founded in 2015 by British/Polish violinist Michał Ćwiżewicz who teaches at the London’s Royal College of Music and pianist Łukasz Filipczak who moved to London in 2005 after winning a scholarship to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Filipczak opened the concert with a splendid performance of Legend by the great Polish pianist and composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski. The work is the first in his Op. 16 set of seven pieces known as Miscellanea. Its gentle and melodic strength served as an excellent segue to Chopin’s Ballade in G Minor, Op. 23.
Filipczak then enchanted us with Chopin’s epic Ballade in G Minor which makes special demands on the performer. The Ballade was said to have been inspired by the poem Konrad Wallenrod by Adam Mickiewicz, a fellow Polish exile living in Paris at the time of its composition in 1835. That inspiration, however, takes a back seat to the power, lyricism, and breathtaking virtuosic demands we associate with Chopin that reveal themselves so clearly in the work and which Filipczak handled so well.
Cellist Piotr Gach, a 2015 graduate of the Karol Szymanowski Music Academy, then joined Filipczak for an especially fine UK premiere performance of Feliks Nowowiejski’s Fantasy for Cello and Piano, Op. 28. As the GCO indicated in its printed program, the concert was dedicated to the memory of the Polish composer, conductor, concert organist, and patriot who wrote the famous Rota (The Oath) which was once proposed to be the Polish national anthem. While cellist Gach shined in the work, he was also at one with Filipczak in a perfect meeting of mind, heart and musicality.
Filipczak was offered a well-deserved break for the riveting performance of Górecki’s 1963 Three Pieces in the Old Style by the strings alone. Here the GCO could not have better served Górecki’s intention of bringing together the old and the new. The beautiful sonorities of the work were fully realized by the GCO in its resonating performance.
The GCO brought things to a stunning climax in a performance of Górecki’s Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, Op. 40 of 1980, a work which offers a startling contrast to the earlier Three Pieces in the Old Style. The powerful and unrelenting drive of its two movements, as they were performed by the GCO and pianist Łukasz Filipczak, understandably brought down the house.
Lucy Miller Murray is the founder of Market Square Concerts in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and author of Chamber Music: An Extensive Guide for Listeners published in 2015 by Rowman & Littlefield.