There’s something about Anna

Two pianists: Polonsky and Podgurski

3 minute read
Polonsky: But what can she do on her own?
Polonsky: But what can she do on her own?
Anna Polonsky rocked the casbah once again. Paired with Peter Wiley on an afternoon of mellow cello music, pianist Polonsky got her chances, especially in the featured piece, Barber's Cello Sonata. Pounding the bass and pedaling, this slender young Curtis graduate had the Steinway thundering to open the Allegro-appassionato third movement. But she also darted like quicksilver in and around Wiley's nifty bowing and fingering in some beautifully playful duet writing in the same piece.

Anyone who has seen Wiley, with those tremendous mitts of his, knows he was born to play cello, and this recital was a solid one, with Beethoven and Schubert as the opening pieces in the first half. But the truth is, a few heads were nodding at this point on this late-winter Sunday afternoon.

Then, after intermission, the pair tackled the early Barber work, from 1932, sandwiched between two confections from Saint-Saëns (The Swan) and Mendelssohn. And it was the changeable rhythms of the Barber, its ambitions, and its irrepressible intelligence that brought the audience to life.

The audience wanted more

It's certainly no disrespect to Wiley that his accompanist was the first name on more than a few lips as the audience exited after giving an extra couple of curtain calls. Actually, many in the audience didn't know her name— she was just "that pianist." There is something about Polonsky that makes people want more.

So it was a great satisfaction to discover the answer to my own question as I made my way to the exit: When will the Chamber music Society offer Polonsky her own solo recital? I was delighted to find the answer in next season's schedule: November 22, at the cozy, funky Fleisher Art Memorial in South Philadelphia. She'll appear again the following month, back under the steady gazes of Jefferson, Franklin and Washington, in a trio formed recently with violist Michael Tree and clarinetist Anthony McGill. Polonsky has played here a fair number of times in recent years, with everyone from Marlboro groupings to Ignat Solzhenitsyn's Chamber Orchestra. But it will be fun to hear what she does on her own.

Podgurski reveals his softer side

As it happened, this Chamber Music Society concert bookended the weekend with another local pianist with a not dissimilar name. Neil Podgurski played two sets for the "Art After 5" concert at the Art Museum Friday night and did the reverse of Polonsky. Where Podgurski has sometimes tended to hammer the keyboard pretty hard in some of his Philadelphia jazz appearances, he showed a different, quieter side with a new band. Compositions called "Confession" and "Prayer," if I caught his hard-to-hear intros clearly (speak up, Neil!), floated up the Great Stair Hall with a grace and openness and emotional accessibility that nicely become a pianist who can make you think of McCoy Tyner in quiet moments, and Horace Silver in funky ones.

But that is another story. Now that Polonsky's recital is settled, I have one more question for the Chamber Music Society: When do we get another chance to hear the even younger pianist, Hanchien Lee?

What, When, Where

Peter Wiley, cello, Anna Polonsky, piano: Works by Barber, Beethoven, Schubert, Saint-SaÓ«ns, Mendelssohn. Presented by Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, March 15, 2009 at American Philosophical Society, 427 Chestnut St. (215) 569-8080 or Art After 5: Neil Podgurski, piano. March 13, 2009 at Philadelphia Museum of Art, Benjamin Franklin Parkway and 26th St. (215) 763-8100 or .

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