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Apr 6, 2010

Review of Rafał Blechacz CD Chopin Concerti (France)

A review written by Gilles d’Heyres who compares the two CDs of Chopin's concertos released by Deutsche Grammophon, by Rafał Blechacz and Lang Lang,
posted on on April 5.

Original review (French)

One had told it to you well: 2010… it is Chopin year! The simultaneous release of these two novelties with the very similar appearance is a vivid proof of it.

Same publisher (DG), same program (the two Concertos of Chopin), distribution in the same nature (two very prominent young pianists, supported by two very experienced chief), same elite in the accompaniment (two of the best orchestras in the world), same care given to the recording (two halls of the legendary acoustics), same principle of capture (the First concerto captured in concert and the Second without public).

The temptation is therefore big to compare the match that is waged from a distance, by the Chinese Lang Lang (born in 1982) and the Pole Rafał Blechacz (born in 1985)…even if only to note that the face of the first appears twelve times in the note whereas the face of the second only seven times.

An approach too much centered on the commercial aspect of this parallel enterprise would be nevertheless unfair, so much these two disks prove to be of quality.

Quality of the recording sound first, the setting (Vienna music association on one hand, Concertgebouw of Amsterdam of the other), it is high.

Quality of the accompaniment next, but the “down-to-earth” direction of the orchestra by Zubin Mehta (who confuses Brahms and Chopin at the head of the Vienna Philharmonic which usually is more subtle) cannot compete with the distinction and subtlety of Jerzy Semkow, also followed by a valiant and attentive Concertgebouw.

Quality of the piano finally, both Lang Lang and Rafał Blechacz undoubtedly deserve their reputation of prodigy of piano.

The interpretative report is nevertheless clear: Rafał Blechacz beats Lang Lang completely... and in all phases of the playing!

In the First concerto in E minor first, where the confrontation is yet more balanced than in second half-time.

So the opus 11 by the Chinese pianist doesn't betray the style in the score of Chopin, providing rich and brilliant strikes, struggling however to assert himself facing the innumerable references discographies. Lang Lang may just multiply the metaphors (in the note), to "think merely of a beautiful landscape – or his mother…", to let go his imagination as "in love story" or be "engaged in [his] walking with someone in a garden [...] so close to the nature", resulting in a very ordinary interpretation of this concerto.

If the orchestra is applied more with Semkow than with Mehta, the accompaniment stays, finally, conventional enough in the two versions of the opus 11.

Certainly, the Chinese pianist delivers his own definition of the Romance. Larghetto: "it is as if one was on a boat that leaves the shore. And when the orchestra makes its entry, one sees a girl. It is very clean for me"...

But this is much less for the listener who hears a particular form of sentimentality in this second movement that Blechacz captures with a simplicity and delicacy of touch more persuasive - if not truly shocking.

Without revolutionizing the interpretation, Rafał Blechacz, by the personality of his playing, strives to be respectful of the text (contrary to the misplacements by the Lang / Mehta couple in the last movement) but never passive vis-à-vis the accents and nuances, in particular in Rondo vivace where the krakowiak is animated with relish by the native of Poland.

The gap is widened in second half-time...

In the Maestoso that opens the Second concerto in F minor, one first appreciates the magnificent playing by Lang Lang, straightforward and direct... too direct unfortunately, to the point that the slow motion and the contrasts of nuances seem at times very artificial.

On the contrary, Rafał Blechacz offers a less powerful touch but the strike always intelligent and otherwise more inspired.

In a Larghetto of anthology, the Polish pianist moves without pretense nor big strings, with frankness (the trills) and simplicity (the nuances piano), in perfect harmony with the exceptional accompaniment by the Concertgebouw: quite the opposite of Lang Lang and Zubin Mehta who did not seem listen enough to each other.

As for the last movement of the opus 21, Blechacz expresses himself with an infinite liberty, succeeding in freeing the mazurka of the boring parts that many soloists fall in.

It is better therefore, in front of the interpretation so successful, not to stay long with the Allegro vivace by Lang Lang (far too uneven) and Zubin Mehta (frankly tasteless).

 Read how Rafał Blechacz recorded the Chopin's concertos /other reviews of CD.


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