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Feb 22, 2011

Review of Rafał Blechacz's recital in San Francisco

"Hall of Joy", a review of Rafał Blechacz's recital in San Francisco written by Ken Iisaka, posted on sfcv.org.

Original review.

I tried to excerpt points of importance but as I read it I found it difficult because what he writes is all relevant, so I abandoned the effort to shorten it.

(quote)
…the seldom-heard Nine Variations on ‘Lison Dormait,’ by Mozart. With his clear tone and light touch, he created a soundscape more reminiscent of the period instrument than the nine-foot Hamburg Steinway that occupied the stage. Never overwhelming or harsh, the joyous atmosphere he conveyed, enhanced with the deft use of his pedaling left foot for contrasts, was transparent and shimmering. His right-hand trills accompanying the left hand in the 4th and 8th variations were flawlessly delivered and brought on mental giggles. It was the perfect amuse-bouche for the sunny afternoon.


L’Embarquement pour Cythère, Watteau
…Debussy’s L’Isle joyeuse. The pianist’s clarity of tone carried into this piece, …his colors were vibrant, almost Gauguinlike, though the “Isle” was the Isle of Jersey, and the painting that inspired Debussy was an 18th-century painting, L’Embarquement pour Cythère, by Watteau. While delivered with much richness, the triumphant ending was a bit too polite, … The climax would have benefitted from uncontrollable ecstasy by pulling out all the figurative stops and letting the entire instrument ring full of overtones.

…Szymanowski’s Sonata No. 1 …Blechacz played the first movement with absolute meticulousness, with hardly a note in the wrong place. Yet it again sounded somewhat restrained and cool… It was more Michelangeli than Argerich.

Still, the following movements were full of humor and sweet textures, particularly in the lovely, music-box–like Menuet movement. Then the intense fugal section of the final movement cut through the air decisively. The waves of long crescendos in the last five or so pages of the score kept growing and growing like a giant tsunami, bringing the music to a gargantuan finish.

After intermission, Blechacz presented an all-Chopin program…The opening octave C of the first Ballade made a statement on its own. Indulgent yet majestic, it seemed to have stopped the rotation of the Earth. Then, the music metamorphosed from the opening key of A-flat major into G-minor like magic, but deliberately. It was clearly evident here that Blechacz was in utmost control of every aspect of the music. The flighty right-hand parts were executed with utmost control and dexterity, and the music breathed so longingly with life. The subtle wavering of the rhythm brought out the yearning and the wistfulness in the poetry. Such masterful control of every aspect of the music, in turn, brought out freedom and jubilance, in its own paradoxical way.

The two Polonaises, Opus 26, were presented with similar determinations and loving care, as well. Vibrant colors bloomed and the joyous lyrical lines were limned with flair, and the drama and passionate nationalism were barely contained within the notes. The four Mazurkas, Opus 41, were played with intimacy and much tender love. Blechacz painted the pastoral scenes and intimate circle of villagers with intricate details, creating a soundscape that transported us back to the time when the mazurka became a sensation throughout Europe.

Chopin’s stormy and bipolar Ballade No. 2 concluded the recital. By then, the entire audience seemed completely captivated and transfigured. The peaceful first theme brought us calmness, but the tempestuous second theme was unleashed with much force and drama, again with calculated measurement, reminiscent of the late, great Arthur Rubinstein.

Here, we were witnessing an emerging titan. Rafal Blechacz’ mastery of Chopin’s music is impeccable, and he was certainly worthy of the honor he received in Warsaw in 2005…

At the recital’s conclusion, most of the elated audience rose to their feet and were rewarded with two encores: Chopin Nocturne, No. 20 in C-sharp Minor, and the scherzo movement from Beethoven’s second sonata, Opus 2, No. 2.
(unquote)

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