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Sep 30, 2009

Insight into Blechacz CD by Władysław Stróżewski

(from Deutsche Grammophon page for Rafał Blechacz;
This essasy is in the CD booklet except for the final paragraph.)

Rafał Blechacz Plays the Chopin Concertos



Chopin wrote his two piano concertos early in hiscareer, in 1829 and 1830. Those were happy years. Living in Warsaw among family and friends after completing his studies at the conservatory, he had time not only for composing and playing the piano but also for discussions and socializing with his companions, the intellectual elite of the Polish capital's youth.

During numerous excursions into the countryside, he visited villages of the Mazovia region, immersed himself in folk music, wrote prose and drew sketches. His musical talent had matured at an astonishing pace, quickly acquiring the traits of originality that he continued to nurture and develop until the end of his life. During this period, Chopin composed a great deal for his instrument, the piano: besides the two concertos, he wrote a set of Variations in B flat major, op. 2; the Rondo à la Krakowiak in F major, op. 14; the Fantasy on Polish Airs in A major, op. 13; the First Sonata inCminor, op. 4; some mazurkas and nocturnes, as well as chamber compositions, among them theGminor Piano Trio, op. 8 and the C major Polonaise for piano and cello, op. 3. He was a perfectionist, destroying - or asking his friends to destroy - the compositions with which he was not completely satisfied. Luckily, his friends did not always comply with his wishes.

The F minor and E minor Concertos (com­posed in that order - the num­bering corresponds to the order of their publication) both retain the Classical layout, but filled with a Romantic spirit: their rich emotional content co-exists with the formal discipline of an already mature artist. At the time Chopin composed them he was fascinated by the style brillant exemplified by such pianist-composers as Hummel, Weber and Kalkbrenner - to the latter he dedicated the E minor Concerto. This can be heard throughout both works, which allow the pianist great scope for virtuoso display. Yet, as Rafał Blechacz notes, Chopin never subjugated his musical thought to virtuosity - he never favoured sheer brilliance over emotional depth.

For Blechacz, that is most important for the pianist in these concertos: their emotional charac­ter and nuances. Youthful vigour - sometimes leading to moments of drama - comes to the fore in the opening movements of both concertos, while their finales are full of joy. “But it is the lyrical second movements", says Rafał, “that are the hearts of the two com­positions". In them Chopin has given expression to his deepest emotions, especially his feelings for Konstancja Gładkowska, his first love.

Writing about the Larghetto of the E minor Concerto, the composer himself declared that “a thousand beloved memories are conjured before my eyes". Here Chopin seems to be whispering, in a delicate, muffled voice, as though divulging his deepest secrets. A pianist can enjoy the greatest freedom here; however he must carefully convey Chopin's intentions and “identify" with his feelings. The basic challenge is to find the appropriate tempo and to make the subtlest use of rubato. The music must flow freely, “as though of its own ­accord", towards that inexplicable epiphany: the moment that crowns an authentically aesthetic experience.

This is something impossible to plan com­pletely. A certain freedom of interpretation is necessary toallow scope for the arrival of that moment of inspiration. This is why the conditions of the performance are so important: the atmosphere of the concert hall and - most of all - the pianist's rapport with the conductor. When he performs Chopin's concertos, Rafał naturally chooses to work with conductors who understand the works' particular aura, for example the finales, inspired by high-spirited folk dances: the mazurka of the F minor Concerto (where a double-bass drone imitates folk instruments) and the krakowiak of the E minor. The choice of tempo is just as important in these as in the preceding movements: not too fast, so that details are not lost, and not too slow, so that the dance character is preserved.

The two Chopin concertos were recorded in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Rafał Blechacz's favourite concert hall, with its incomparable orchestra, whose noble, “velvety" sound is particularly suited to this music, under Jerzy Semkow, the outstanding Polish conductor with whom the pianist has a special understanding. The idea for the recording took shape immediately after Blechacz's unprecedented triumph in the 2005 Chopin Competition, where he won the main prize as well as special prizes in all four individual categories. On that occasion he played the E minor Concerto. Also worthy of mention here is another performance of Chopin's two concertos which reveals another aspect of Rafał's nature: a concert with Poland's National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Antoni Wit in the pianist's hometown of Nakło on the River Noteæ. There, owing to the lack of a proper concert hall, the event took place in a church. It was a magnificent gift of gratitude from the pianist to his birthplace, as well as an extraordinary experience for the little town's inhabitants.

Rafał Blechacz is one of the finest young pianists in the world. Along with his extraordinary talent he possesses an exceptional intelligence that allows him to understand in depth the music he performs, and a degree of perception that allows him infallibly to grasp the aesthetic and spiritual dimensions of the compositions he interprets. One could say that his sensitivity is akin to that of Chopin himself, and this is perhaps why Blechacz seems predestined to interpret his compatriot's works. Performing Chopin, however, also opens doors to other composers who preceded or followed him. It isn't therefore surprising that Blechacz focuses on Classical and Romantic repertoire as well as Debussy and Szymanowski. His talent and other character attributes are rooted in a deep spirituality that has not only artistic but also metaphysical and religious dimensions. His numerous interests include philosophy, and his musical endeavours extend to the organ music repertoire. Those who get to know Rafał Blechacz personally note the charm and, above all, modesty that seems not to have been adversely affected by fame.

Władysław Stróżewski
8/2009


German and French versions of this text are available at DG Blechacz page.
Please click on "INSIGHTS".

Polish text from Blechacz official website.

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