Review of Rafał Blechacz's recital at Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium,Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, on Feb.26, 2010,
written by George Grella, posted on ☆Musicweb International, privately operated review site of U.K. of music and arts.
Review from Musicweb International
Bach, Mozart, Debussy, Chopin: Rafal Blechacz, piano, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, 26.2.2010 (GG)
Bach: Partita No 1 in B flat Major, BWV 825
Mozart: Sonata in B flat Major, K. 570
Debussy: Pour le piano
Chopin: Ballade No. 3 in A flat Major, Op. 47, Scherzo No 1 in B Minor, Op. 20, Polonaise-Fantasie in A flat Major, Op. 61
Rafal Blechacz’s Metropolitan Museum recital was a tale of two concerts, told in two halves. One half was fresh and technically sharp, but also a little flat. The second was just as technically accomplished and also committed and fiery. It was two concerts by one pianist.
What made the difference? Some combination of experience and personal passion, I believe. Blechacz played the music on the first half of the program – Bach, Mozart and Debussy – extremely well, but not memorably well. The all Chopin second half was absolutely memorable. In all cases he ably produced the notes on the pages of music, but at his best he expressed something about those notes.
His Bach Partita began with the combination of lively tempo and legato phrasing. He’s young, appearing almost just out of school, but plays with an unfussy elegance more often associated with mature musicians. He also played Bach with a cool objectivity, which can work but is a tough choice. Bach can be all about the notes, because the combination of the notes is so evocatively complex, but that is a type of expression that Blechacz didn’t choose. His sound was warm, the inner voices clear, and his exact tempo was bracing, but it was an unhappy mean. There is so much music there, so many ideas, the warmth can be pressed as can the severity. The rich Sarabande offers so much grace and lyricism, but the pianist was content to offer the specifications and little else. The playing was very fine and there was nothing intrinsically wrong with the performance, it just gave no idea of what Blechacz thinks of Bach.
The meeting of musician and Mozart was a little more simpatico. The brilliance of the music and the flourishes of the details suit the charm in Blechacz’s playing. His precision and clarity in tempo and phrasing in this music were ideal, and there was a great deal of zest. Still, the objective view held, and the meaning of the performance was inscrutable, or perhaps just as yet unrevealed to the musician – he seems to be in the process of thinking about what it means to him. Debussy was also subjected to this dry sensibility; the Prelude was held back a little, the Sarabande tender and pithy and the Toccata sounded strikingly, and oddly, like Bach, but this time with a more supple sense of tempo.
Blechacz has made a name for himself as a player of Chopin, and that music seems to give him the opportunity to reveal himself. He was a totally different pianist. After the first half, the main question was will he get wild in this frequently wild music, and the answer was: absolutely. Chopin clearly excites and satisfies him, he is subjective in a positive sense in these pieces; he has views of Chopin and arguments to make about the music. Plenty of musicians have stellar technique, but it is the thinking that makes a musician important, and Blechacz could be an important Chopin player. He doesn’t lose his clarity and elegance; rather to it he adds force and a sense of exploration. There is a magic about Chopin in that he seems to suspend time for what really are the briefest moments by filling the space in between salient musical events with intense bursts of activity and contemplation, he is the flâneur who catches a glimpse of something in casual mid-stride and, not breaking step, follows an infinitely ruminative path from that inspiration, with the next footfall eliding that previous moment with the next to come. Blechacz seems to implicitly understand this, as everything speaks with some meaning, nothing is given short shrift or treated as merely ornamentation, nor is anything mannered. His playing of the Ballade was tender and wild, the Scherzo was fiery and wandered through the quiet interlude without specific aim but with an overall purpose, and the Polonaise-Fantasie was special, especially the extraordinarily poetic playing of the opening statement. These pieces were rewarded with a rapturous ovation. Blechacz may be finding his way through the piano literature, but he has already staked a notable claim on some of its most important pieces.
My personal impression is that the reviewer lacks the sensitivity to grasp the profoundness and versatility of Blechacz's playing. He seems to adhere to the stereotyped notion that Blechacz is a superb Chopin player and gives very uninspiring views on Bach, Mozart and Debussy; "it just gave no idea of what Blechacz thinks of Bach" (it's your lack of insight, Mr.reviewer), "Debussy was also subjected to this dry sensibility" (it's simply wrong).
This one, in Polish, by Sporek is about the Chopin Anniversary celebrations in Poland (asking why Lang Lang opened the Anniversary on Jan. 7, not a Polish pianist? Very critical about Polish organization of the Anniversary).
Original review (Polish)
(With appreciation to Roman Frackowski for the info.)