Wolfgang Amadeus in beautiful natural scenery is how one might sum up Gdańsk’s 14th International Mozart Festival (18-24 August). Literally, because most of the concerts were held in Oliwa Park in front of the Abbots’ Palace, and figuratively, besides the music of its namesake (often of the lighter variety), the event’s musical landscape consisted of broadly-understood paraphrases of his music, in all sorts of conventions, which proves yet again the brilliant universality of the Salzburg composer.

    One of the most successful of these paraphrases was the Vows „fan tutte,” which brought together Cosi fan tutte with Aleksander Fredro’s comedy Maidens’ Vows, whose fragments were combined by director  Natalia Babińska in an intelligent, feisty and well-founded way, building on an idea from Festival head Jan Łukaszewski (22 August). Although they have vectors acting in opposite directions, both the play and the opera are similar in their highlighting of tamed youthful amatory defiance and the mesmeric magnetism of the heart. (The originator of the theory of mesmerism, F.A. Mesmer, actually commissioned the 12-year-old Mozart to write the singspiel Bastien & Bastienne.) The performers, all associated with the Warsaw Chamber Opera, soprano Anna Mikołajczyk-Niewiedział (Fiordiligi/Klara), mezzosoprano Elżbieta Wróblewska (Dorabella/Aniela), tenor Aleksander Kunach (Ferrando/Albin), baritone Tomasz Rak (Guglielmo/Gustaw) and bass Robert Gierlach (Don Alfonso/Radost/Narrator) delighted the audience not only with their beautiful singing, but also with their excellent acting with a good feeling for Fredro’s supple phrasing, which is something not at all common. All this to the emphatic accompaniment by the Polish Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Massimiliano Caldi.

    The Festival’s unquestionable highlight was the final concert with Mozart’s Requiem. No wonder, because the names were all major league: Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, the Polish Chamber Choir and its conductor Jan Łukaszewski and soloists: Israeli soprano Talia Or, Polish alto Ewa Marciniec and Britons Thomas Elwin (tenor) and Darren Jaffery (bass). Their highly emotional performance, particularly AKAMUS’, featured a simply transfixing contrast between the lyrical sections, especially Lacrimosa, and the apocalyptic dramatic parts (Dies IraeRex TremendaeConfutatis). This contrast, a core feature of both the requiem mass and the interior of Oliwa Cathedral, where it was performed, with its gloomy darkness and heavenly light. This effect as enhanced by adding a Gregorian chant performed by the Schola Gregoriana Cardinalis Stephani Wyszyński (magister chori – Michał Sławecki), although I felt this to be superfluous.

    Out of the three pre-festival chamber concerts in the rococo interior of Gdańsk’s Uphagen House, I would like to highlight the final one, where the German pianist Heide Görtz and her Norwegian former student Tina Margareta Nilssen, The Dena Piano Duo,  gave a passionate performance of Mozart in an arrangement by Grieg: the Sonata in F majorG major and the C minor Fantasia with accompaniments for second piano added by the Scandinavian.

    The Festival also had its share of improvisation, so close to the composer’s heart. The evening concerts featured jazz musicians: the brilliantly perfectionist Leszek Kułakowski Jazz Orchestra (third stream), the klezmer Bester Quartet, finally the disarmingly charming, loose and world-renowned Klazz Brothers & Cuba Percussion and its Latin American rhythms.

    The Gdańsk event was complemented by: horn player Paweł Cal with the Łódź Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Paweł Przytocki, young violinist Robert Traksmann with the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Juha Kangas and, last but not least, Schönbrunn Palace’s Marionette Theatre and its production of the Abduction from the Seraglio, a real treat for children big and small.


Monika Partyk