Krzysztof Penderecki
Szymanowski’s First String Quartet is suffused with the (over)ripe chromaticism, gorgeous chordings and dense, swirling textures of Romanticism’s dotage, influenced by Richard Strauss, Wagner and Liszt. The first of the quartet’s three movements (lento assai, or very slow) recalls early Schoenberg on steroids. The second (andantino), a bit turgid at its beginning,  is contemplative. The finale is compositionally virtuosic, a lively folk-inspired dance with modernist glosses and interpolations, structured  as an elaborate fugue. All the performances were taut, lively and well-prepared, excellent on both the ensemble and the individual levels.   Mr. Shterenberg displayed brilliant virtuosity in the Weber quintet’s flamboyant finale, rather like an opera cabaletta-without-words, and stylish elegance throughout the piece.  The desolate outer movements of the Penderecki quartet demand very different qualities — self-effacing and introvert — and here, too, he was marvelously effective.
Camerata San Antonio
November 25, 2014 Camerata San Antonio cast light on two important but (hereabouts) underexposed Polish composers in a superb concert Nov. 23 in Christ Episcopal Church.  The first half paired Krzysztof Penderecki’s spare Clarinet Quartet  (1993) with Karol Szymanowski’s opulent String Quartet No. 1 in C  (1917).  The closer was Carl Maria von Weber’s sweet and juicy  Clarinet Quintet in B-flat (1815). The players, all members of the  San Antonio Symphony, were Ilya Shterenberg (clarinet), Matthew Zerweck and Anastasia Storer (violins), Emily Freudigman (viola)  and Kenneth Freudigman and Lachezar Kostov (cello).  Mr. Penderecki (born in 1933, he is still living in Poland) is probably  most widely known for his nightmarish Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960), a dense impasto of screeching tone clusters and complex counterpoint; and for his St. Luke Passion (1966),  also  dense and dissonant but steeped in reverence. His later style, of  which the Clarinet Quartet is a good exemplar, could not be called  conservative, but it is stripped down, even ascetic, and more given  to long, sinuous melodies that are dark and melancholy yet also  curiously sensuous. The piece opens and closes with slow, quiet movements — an adagio “Notturno” and an allegretto “Abschied,”  or farewell. The two middle movements are quick, sardonic and muscular, hinting of Shostakovich.     Mr. Kostov had made a terrific impression in his Camerata début last year, in a concert with the pianist Viktor Valkov — they're both Bulgarian natives and longtime musical partners. It was a pleasure to hear once again the cellist’s incisive rhythms and spirited phrasing in the Szymanovski quartet. The cellist in the other works was Kenneth Freudigman, projecting his customary luscious tone and full engagement with the music. The viola is the under-appreciated utility infielder of chamber music, seldom the star but contributing so much to the texture of a performance. As always, Ms. Freudigman fit the bill ideally, and when the music put her in the foreground she shone brightly.  Ms. Storer played the first violin part in the Weber quintet, which nicely showcased her splendid middle and low registers. Mr. Zerweck, first violin in the Szymanowski and only violin in the Penderecki, once again proved himself to be a musician of the first rank — secure, intelligent, vital. Friends, seize every opportunity to hear this fellow play while you still can; there’s no way he’ll not have a globe-hopping career if he wants it.  Mike Greenberg 
Music from Poland, lean and lush
incident light
Karol Szymanowski: Portrait by Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, 1930,