There was a buzz of excitement around Clitheroe Concerts Society long before before last Wednesday’s eagerly-awaited concert by internationally-acclaimed Alicja Śmietana and Grzegorz Mania.
Alicja is considered one of the most influential of the younger violinists, playing with extraordinary brilliance and sensitivity, while her accompanist, Grzegorz, is an international pianist in his own right.
Alicja has had a highly successful career, winning an impressive list of international prizes. She has played both chamber music and as soloist with the world’s most acclaimed orchestras in many of the major concert houses in the world.
In addition to her highly praised performances of classical music from the Baroque to the modern era, she plays in other styles, including electronic and improvised music. She has played classical music at all the major London concert halls and also jazz at London’s top venues, the 100 Club, Ronnie Scott’s and the Vortex Jazz Club.
The concert started with a solo work – Biber’s Passacaglia in G minor for solo violin – which dates from 1676 and was an excellent introduction, demonstrating the rich sound of her 1740 Camillus Camilli instrument. Grzegorz then joined her for Mozart’s B flat major sonata and the first half of the concert was concluded with a series of Romanian dances collected by Bartok and used as the themes of a series of short movements. The wonderful playing and rapport between Alicja and Grzegorz was the talking point of the interval, after which a single work, Brahms’ Violin Sonata No 3, was to be played.
This is a large scale work in four movements and at times it is hard to believe that only two instruments are playing. The final movement is described as virtuosic with a frenzied, passionate character suggestive of a tarantella, with the instruments at times switching roles. Lyrical, but stormy and impassioned music makes way for an elegant, stately and calm melody, played simply, before the tarantella returns, leading to a thundering conclusion.
The skill of Alicja and Grzegorz was to play this complex music so superbly. Their genius was to make it so easy to understand and so logically set out that it was easy to follow Brahms’ train of thought to a satisfying conclusion.
The applause was prolonged and brought them back again and again. Eventually, Alicja said that they would not normally play an encore, as much as they might want to, after the Brahms Sonata as it was totally complete in its own right. However, her father had died only two months previously and despite his international reputation as a jazz guitarist, he also liked classical music, so they would play a piece of his favourite music as a tribute to him. This was immediately recognised as Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s Turandot, making a beautiful and touching end to a very memorable concert.
Alicja Śmietana and Grzegorz Mania. Photo: Ken Geddes.