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Feb 23, 2011

Rafał is a phenomenon- - a fan's view in San Francisco

A fan’s review of Rafał Blechacz’s recital on Feb. 20.  The author is Sandrine Georges who came all the way from Seattle to San Francisco to attend the recital.  Big thanks to Sandrine for the visualizing and engaging description of the beautiful day of the recital.  She now sincerely wishes to have Rafał's live concert again in Seattle in the near future.

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Rafał is a phenomenologist. The word begs for the easy translation into ‘studier of phenomena.’ But its more secret meaning is harder to get at. As a phenomenologist, one searches for the essence of Being. It seems like a grandiose notion, but Rafał makes it as simple and beautiful as listening to music.


The Herbst Theater is bedecked with beaux-arts murals, blue molded ceilings, and a red curtain, gold tasseled and fringed. Fine-looking as they are, those details faded into an ambient haze as the performer entered the stage. Returning to the San Franciscan theater after three years, he was greeted eagerly by an audience that recognized his talent.

If some audience members were unfamiliar with his music, they left satisfied by the end, joining the lengthy line to procure an autograph and congratulate the artist on what seemed to be a too-short recital, even with two generous encores.

Opening with characteristically convivial Mozart (K. 264), Rafał ushered in each of the 9 Variations of Lison dormait with the suggestive phrasing, pregnant pauses, and clear tone that distinguish his pianistic style.

The intimacy of the small theater certainly complemented the technical side of his playing, allowing the sound that he intended to be clearly heard. From this, he delineated the form of the music explicitly, bringing out the connection of motif to motif, especially in the Szymanowski sonata (Op. 8) in which he expertly teased out each of the contrapuntal voices that concluded the final movement.

The second half of the show was devoted to Chopin, a proven strength for Rafał. Ever the champion, he did not disappoint. As diverse as the first part of the program, and correspondingly structured, Rafał played through the polonaises of opus 26 and the mazurkas of op 41 between two ballades (Op. 23 No. 1 and Op. 38 No. 2, respectively). The varied styles, in musical era and emotional tenor, displayed throughout the performance were enriching as well as thought provoking.

Why would Szymanowski include a whirl-wind minuet and fugue in his modern-expressionist composition? And why did Rafał choose to contrast this work with the atmospheric L’isle joyeuse of Debussy?

The musical questions were responded to by thunderous applause amidst numerous standing ovations. Rafał rewarded the audience’s answer with two captivating encores: a fresh Op. Posth. No. 20 by Chopin that didn’t drag and a genuinely laugh-inducing scherzo from Beethoven’s sonata Op. 2 No. 2.

Eminently enjoyable, his artistry is subtly evocative in a way that leads the audience easily from note to note across a wide-ranging sonic palate. Rafał is a phenomenon.


San Jose, May 4, 2008
N.B. Certain things that occurred during this particular performance included the intrusive applause after the first movement of the Szymanowski which Rafał handled with a quick bow, a smile, and more tightly woven transitions thereafter to dispel any confusion. Two bouquets of flowers were presented to the artist, one of them by me on behalf of Chamber Music San Francisco.
Made me so nervous. But what could be more thrilling?  Perhaps the autograph he signed on my sheet music for Chopin's cello sonata. Makes me want to practice. Blechacz for the win!

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I remember it happened in my country last year when a big applause occurred after the first waltz of Chopin’s op. 34 and Rafał stood up and bowed charmingly.


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